Detained Egyptian filmmaker Shady Habash died from 'alcohol poisoning', government claims

Detained Egyptian filmmaker Shady Habash died from 'alcohol poisoning', government claims
An investigation into the death of detained filmmaker Shady Habash last week has been blamed on alcohol poisoning.
3 min read
11 May, 2020
Habash died inside Egypt's notorious Tora prison
An imprisoned Egyptian filmmaker who was found dead in his cell last week suffered from an alcohol overdose, Egypt's public prosecution claimed on Sunday.

The report of Shady Habash's death seemed to contradict accounts from fellow prisoners at the notorious Tora Prison who said guards ignored his calls for help.

Habash, a 24-year-old photographer and filmmaker jailed two-years-ago for directing a music video that mocked Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, died from methyl alcohol poisoning, a statement released on Sunday said.

The young filmmaker died from "methyl alcohol poisoning the blood and inhibition of the central nervous system, in addition to causing severe respiratory failure", the final statement from the investigation said.

"The apparent examination of the body confirmed that there are no traces of recent apparent vital injuries, indicating the cohesion, attraction, or criminal violence of the deceased," it added.

There have been concerns from rights activists over the conditions of Habash's death, with the government warning against circulating "fake news".

The final statement intended to confirm earlier claims from Egypt's public prosecution that Habash died after drinking alcohol intended for use as a hand sanitiser due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Inmates housed in the same cell as Habash told authorities that he fell ill after drinking ethanol, although it is unclear whether the filmmaker drank the alcohol intentionally.

One inmate allegedly told investigators that he had seen Habash drinking from a regular bottle of water but when he tried it, it tasted "different and unusual".

Habash then told his cellmate that "he mixed his alcohol with soda water to give the same effect [as] alcoholic drinks", the prosecution said. The inmate said he found two 100ml bottles of alcohol in the rubbish after his death.

Both statements contradict claims made by We Record, an international human rights platform that documents violations in Egyptian jails.

The organisation said Habash's death came after appeals from cellmates and other detainees to "save him" were ignored by prison officers and the administration.

The rights group said on Facebook that the news was confirmed by a source outside the notorious Tora prison.

Read more: Imprisoned because of a song: How jail became a death sentence for Egyptian filmmaker, Habash

Habash was arrested in March 2018, for directing the music video for "Balala", a song which heavily mocks and criticises Sisi, performed by Egyptian rock artist Ramy Issam.

"You lived in gardens and we lived in jails," Essam sings about Sisi in "Balaha" – a derogatory name in Egyptian Arabic which literally translates to dates.

In his last letter, written from inside his cell in October last year, Habash describes desperation after month-after-month he awaited his release - to no avail.

"So I'm still in prison. Every 45 days I go before a judge who gives me another 45 days in jail, without even looking at me nor the papers of the case," Habash wrote, pleading for outside help from his friends and loved ones.

"Prison doesn't kill, but loneliness kills… I need your support so that I don't die," the late filmmaker wrote.

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