Voices in Danger: A letter from an Egyptian photojournalist locked up in the ‘blackhole’

“I will be on the street again, recording... I miss my camera"

Share

Friday was declared “A Global Day of Action” by Al Jazeera as the trial began for their three international journalists. But within the walls of Cairo’s largest prison, Tora Prison, also sit neglected local journalists who have little hope of seeing the inside of a courtroom anytime soon.  Voices in Danger managed to obtain contact with the incarcerated 27- year-old freelance photojournalist Mahmoud Abu-Zied, affectionately known as Shawkan, who was beaten and arrested by police during the Rabaa demonstrations in August. A source close to Mahmoud snuck out his written account from Tora Prison for this report.

Mahmoud was on the front line photographing the clash between the police and the pro-Morsi protestors.  “The atmosphere was like we were in a war,” writes Mahmoud as he recalls the fateful day of his arrest.  “Bullets, tear gas, fire, and a lot of police soldiers and tanks were everywhere.  My Lord!  I saw all these police forces with guns and many of them took over the Square.”   When he identified himself as a photojournalist to police, he was beaten and arrested along with fellow freelance photojournalist Louis Jammes, and Mike Giglio at 9 a.m. on 14 August.

“They [police] beat us shamefully, and then tied our hands and took all the equipment from us.  After that, they took us, and the protesters, in a prisoner’s car to Cairo Stadium.  Our group got divided up, and Louis and Giglio were released after 2 hours.  The rest of us remained at the Stadium the rest of the day.”

He was treated like a criminal, he says, and the police beat him “very shamefully” every three hours.  All other 47 prisoners were also systematically beaten.  He recalls how “the room was dark” while they beat him about his face, and all over his body. All the prisoners were hungry, afraid and expecting to die.

After three long days, police officers stuffed the group of 48 prisoners into a small dark blue van and abandoned them to the sweltering heat of the Egyptian sun without water, food or fresh air.  He recalls the intense feeling of fear, “ I felt like I was kidnapped.  I still live with this feeling.  Actually, it’s not a feeling.  I’m really kidnapped, and waiting for when I can go back home.”

 

( “I sit in its [sic] for 3 days long, they were the worst days I lived in my whole life.”)

When he reflects on the day of his arrest, he writes, “I was just doing my job.  Why are the authorities detaining me?”  Mahmoud stands accused of 11 charges, including possessing weapons, inciting violence and of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Today, Mahmoud spends his days in Tora eating, reading and praying in what he calls,  “A blackhole, where all things are the same, and everything is black.”  But, he dreams of his release, and writes, “I will be on the street again, recording and shooting as a freelance photojournalist all the things that are happening on the street.  I miss my camera.”  He also has other plans when he is released: “I want to form a Committee that cares about freelancers, and them feeling more secure.”

From within the Istiqbal Wing of Tora Prison, Mahmoud signs off: “From the Blackhole, I send my greetings.”

In 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Egypt the world's third deadliest country for journalists. At least five journalists were killed and 45 assaulted last year, according to CPJ. Security forces raided at least 11 news outlets that year.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: moderate, iconic royals are a shoe-in for a pedantic kicking

Guy Keleny
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: Cameron is running scared from the “empty chair”

Oliver Wright
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us