Saturday, December 06, 2008

Cops and bloggers

While surveying the latest developments on Fartbook this morning in an attempt to put off doing any work, I saw that someone had very usefully used his status to report that there were rumours that a blogger*/journalist had been arrested by the police.

Further enquiries revealed that the blogger was Ahmed Abdel Fattah, that he was being held in Doqqi police station, and that he had been arrested while covering the (aborted) departure of an aid caravan to Gaza. (This is the second time in as many months that activists attempting to deliver aid to Gaza have been prevented from doing so. The Egyptian authorities are (inexcusably and stupidly) super sensitive about anything Rafah Crossing-related, having been caught with their pants down in January).

I went to the Doqqi police station. Dr Moftases was already there, as were two lawyers from ANHRI, hanging around in the vestibule area of the police station’s first floor.

Dokki police station is partly housed in a converted villa which, in its prime, must have been slightly fabulous. All high ceilings and wooden floors. It is, of course, in a lamentable state now: dirty, exhausted and sinister - a bit like the Egyptian police service itself.

The vestibule we waited in was empty save for in one corner a huge map on an easel marking out the geographical scope of the area covered by the Doqqi police force, and opposite, a “law7et sharaf” [honour board]. This was a glass case attached to the wall containing a piece of paper on which was printed “el sha3b wel shorta fe khedmet el watan” [the people and the police: in the service of the nation]. I’m unsure why this falsehood was housed in a glass case, like a museum relic – perhaps to stop passersby defacing it?

The lawyers said that they had initially been told that Ahmed wasn’t in the police station, but that they had spotted him inside. This was eventually confirmed by an employee (whose job description I didn’t establish) who said that they were in the process of calling state security investigations to check whether they wanted to interrogate Ahmed or not, and that they would know in ten minutes.

While waiting I wandered into the large balcony at the end of the corridor where on one side there was a folded-up camp bed and on the other three handcuffed men seated on the ground. One of the men was barefoot, his feet black with dirt.

A brusque, aggressive man came out, announced himself as head of criminal investigations, told us that Ahmed would indeed be sent to state security and that we should now all bugger off thank you very much. One of the lawyers requested to see Ahmed, “just for a couple of minutes”. The man said no. She repeated her request. “Do you want to argue with me?” he said. Viva the Criminal Procedures Code.

We went downstairs and waited. Ahmed emerged, handcuffed to a policeman. I took a photo with my mobile phone, semi surreptitiously. One of the bastard policemen ratted on me. A man (who later turned out to be the police station ma2moor or chief), approached me and, bizarrely, told me off for leaning on the police station wall. Another officer took my phone from me. I had by this time turned the camera off. He stared at the phone, then gave it back to me, being either too lazy or too technically inept to check for a photo.

(How do I save a zoomed in picture?)

Ahmed kindly sent me a zoomed-in version

Ahmed, who was in good spirits, was taken to the state security headquarters in a box (pick-up truck is it?). We followed in a taxi and got out near the HQ, which is at the end of a peaceful, leafy suburban street. People are prevented from approaching it by plain-clothed officers stationed at a metal barrier thing on wheels. One of the lawyers, approximately ten metres away from the gate - i.e. in supposedly non-SS territory - was told that talking on his mobile in this area was prohibited. Maybe non-SS territory doesn’t exist.

The lawyers eventually got inside and Dr Moftases, an Ikhwan activist (who had joined us at the police station) and I went to get something to eat, having been forbidden from standing still in the SS street.

ASIDE: In case you care, I was treated to a very nice shrimp sandwich from Semsema (which I wholly endorse) by the Ikhwan activist.

A third lawyer emerged while we were heading back to the SS HQ. All of a sudden Ahmed emerged out of the darkness, to a rapturous reception by the 3rd lawyer and the Ikhwan activist who ran towards him with arms outspread, like when kidnapped children are reunited with their parents in films. It was a beautiful moment which ideally should have happened in slow motion, and sort of did, given that the Ikhwan activist had just consumed a Shawerma fransawy.

We were happy, but it still wasn’t over. Another journalist, Aya Youssef, had been detained with Ahmed at the same time and was still in Doqqi police station. Back we went.

Aya was being held downstairs, in the area designate for inmates. She was sat, looking a bit wan, in a cage which contained her, an old man in a gallabeyya sitting on the ground, a young man with a big bandage on his head and other women (from what I could see).

ANOTHER ASIDE: For those of you who have had the misfortune to see Heyya Fawda, the room was identical to the set used in the film, and the ma2moor looked a bit like whathisname who played the dirty cop, as it goes.

The ma2moor and approximately ten other policemen stood around outside the cage, looking intimidating. The lawyer was told that Aya would be taken to the public prosecution office. Ahmed said that she had been questioned about leaflets found in her possession when she was arrested during the caravan debacle, but didn’t know what was written on the leaflets.

The lawyer said that the ma2moor “just wanted to get rid of” as many of the people in the police station as possible, because the cage was getting crowded. Ahmed later told us that many of the detainees had been brought in from a local slum area where there had been a fight. What looked like the relatives of these people were sat opposite the police station. Women and children, one of whom was asleep across his mother's lap. They were camped out under the huge, imposing tower of the Islamic Bank.

Ahmed also said that he had been held with men who had been in the police station “for five days without charge” and that they were beaten on a daily basis and generally kept in deplorable conditions. He said that one of these men lifted up his shirt to show him cigarette burns on his torso, inflicted by the police.

Ahmed was particularly moved by the plight of a female detainee was being held inside the police station with her 2 year-old daughter. The child was hungry, and Ahmed gave a policeman 20 LE to go and get her some food.

Aya’s release was ordered by the public prosecution office at around 9 p.m. The latest is that she'll be released at midnight. I had to leave at around 6.30 p.m., three and a half hours after I arrived. Not that long, but it felt like years. I left with renewed respect for the junior lawyers who put in the leg work running from police station to police station after detainees, trying to prevent them disappearing into the system. They’re the unsung heroes who rescue the soldiers on the frontline after the world has forgotten about them.

*Bloggers seem to be a favourite target at the moment. On a related note, CPJ report that more internet journalists are now imprisoned than journalists working in any other medium. So as a journalist working in print and a blogger who links to my print articles on my blog and who references other people's blogs a lot in my print articles perhaps I should just turn myself in now? Or self-combust? Or what?


أحمد عبد الفتاح said...

Thank God for everything
Was an incredible experience and very rich
and thank u sara 4 all things u do 2 day
very grate post

Worthy Oriental Gentleman said...

please don't burst into flames or turn yourself into the police.

please look after yourself and please write a book.

مهندس مصري بيحب مصر said...

thank you for this complete coverage for the story
Ahmed is one of my best blogging friends
thank you again you and every one supported him

μ said...

Sorry in advance for the irrelevance of the comment. December, 30, Event with solidarity to the people of Greece. Feel free to circulate by any means

اليونانيون في الشوارع: شعب من أجل التغيير

في السادس من ديسمبر قُتل الطفل أليكسيس جريجوروبولوس بسلاح شرطي في وسط العاصمة أثينا. وقد حاول الإعلام تقديم صورة مغلوطة للعالم بأن حادثة مقتل الطفل حدثت خلال مظاهرة احتجاج، ولكن الطفل أليكسيس لم يكن يحتج في مظاهرة، بل كان يجلس في الشارع مع أصدقائه. وعلى إثر الحادث خرج اليونانيون إلى الشوارع بهدف الاحتجاج، وتستمر مظاهرات الاحتجاج في اليونان منذ أسابيع وحتى يومنا هذا.

يدعوكم كل من مجلس الشؤون العربية والداخلية ومجموعة التضامن مع شعب اليونان لحضور عرض فيديو وصور أُخِذَت من مصادر مختلفة، تتبعها كلمة عن الأوضاع في اليونان ونقاش مفتوح.

في مقر نقابة الصحافيين
4 شارع عبد الخالق ثروت، الطابق الرابع
وذلك يوم الثلاثاء الموافق 30 كانون الأول\ ديسمبر 2008 في تمام الساعة الثامنة مساء
Greece On The Streets: People For Change

On December 6, Alexis Grigoropoulos was shot dead by a police officer in the centre of Athens. Worldwide, the mainstream media has presented the killing as part of an ongoing demonstration. But Alexis was not demonstrating; he was sitting on a street with his friend.

Various movements all over Greece have taken to the streets in protest. It’s been weeks and yet they’re still out there…

Syndicate of Journalists and Solidarity With the People of Greece invite you to

A screening of videos and photographs from alternative sources, followed by a presentation and discussion.

Syndicate of Journalists, 4th floor
(4, Abd al-Khaliq Sarwat Street, off Talat Harb Street, Downtown Cairo)
Tuesday, December 30, 8pm

Scarr said...

Thanks for everyone's comments.

re. the Greece solidarity event: sounds great, I'll be there.