Egyptian jailed for directing song critical of Sisi dies in notorious Tora prison

Egyptian jailed for directing song critical of Sisi dies in notorious Tora prison
24-year-old Shady Habash died inside the Tora prison, where numerous activists and political detainees are similarly held without trial.
3 min read
02 May, 2020
The 24-year-old Egyptian director was imprisoned without trial in 2018. [Facebook]
Egyptian filmmaker and photographer Shady Habash, jailed for directing a music clip mocking Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, died inside a Cairo prison, reports said on Saturday.

Lawyers and human rights advocates said Habash died at 24 inside Egypt's notorious Tora prison – where thousands of political prisoners and detainees are kept, often without trial – after being targeted by Sisi's arrest campaign against critics two years ago.

Habash was arrested and jailed 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, which literally translates to dates – unknowingly describing Habash’s fate.

Citing Habash's lawyer, the New York Times said the exact cause of death is still unknown.

We Record, an international human rights platform that documents violations, said Habash's death came after appeals from fellow cellmates and detainees to "save him" were ignored by prison officers and the administration.

The rights group said on its Facebook that the news was confirmed by a source outside the prison, adding that the body was already moved by the prison's administration.

In his last letter, written from inside his cell in October last year, Habash describes desperation as month after month we awaits for 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.

In a post, Essam, who currently lives in Sweden in exile said in a post that the director was not in any way responsible for the content of the video he was arrested over.

"Shady didn’t have anything to do with the content of the song. As an acknowledged photographer and director Shady was constantly working on Middle Eastern projects, and Balaha was just one of the many music videos that Shady directed in his career," the rock artist said.

The Human Rights Watch has documented waves of arrests carried out by Egyptian police and national security forces of Sisi’s critics since as early as May 2018. Charges seem to be based on peaceful activism and social media posts, according to the rights watchdog.

Read also: Two women forcibly disappeared, arbitrarily detained by Egypt security forces: HRW

"Shadi Habash entered prison at 22 over a song and died at 24. A short and sorrowful story about the future of Egypt that keeps dying day after another inside prisons," Tarek Hussein, Egyptian lawyer and human rights activist wrote.

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