CAIRO: Two years ago, Omnia Magdy as a happy bride-to-be, busily preparing for her wedding, with no idea that her groom would be detained only 15 days before the ceremony.
On Wednesday, she protested in her wedding dress outside the Journalists’ Syndicate on behalf of her fiancé, photojournalist Omar Abdel Maksoud, who was arrested in April 2014.
“I need back our lost life and our dreams that they stole from us,” Omnia told The Cairo Post as she prepared to head to the headquarters of Press Syndicate, where the protest was held.
Abdel Maksoud, along with his two young brothers, including a minor, are held on what rights groups described as “trumped-up” charges of burning cars, in which they were sentenced to life despite “lack of evidence against them.”
Omnia says that on the day of the crime he was on assignment in another place far from where the arson occurred.
Expressing her fears a long incarceration “could end their relationship,” Omnia quoted from Abdel Maksoud’s last letter, in which he asked her to plan for her own life “because he does not want to be selfish or burden me with his problems.”
“But I do not want that to happen,” Omnia continued as she struggled to keep her tone steady.
On the stairs leading to the Press Syndicate, Omnia cheered while dozens of supporters called for the release of Masr Al-Arabia photojournalist Abdel Maksoud and other colleagues who have been tossed in jail.
The trio’s imprisonment has been deemed by rights groups as a “punishment” to a whole family over his work as a photojournalist, according to a statement by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR.)
At least 27 journalists are currently in prison in what fellows condemned as systematic pressure imposed on press freedom in the country.
Members of Syndicate recently launched a sit-in criticizing malpractice at prisons, after wives of detained journalists reported their husbands were in failing health at the maximum-security Al-Aqrab (Scorpion) prison.
Abdel Maksoud’s family have frequently called for medical attention over his heart disease; his fiancé stated that he was only transferred to the intensive care “after he suffered severe chest pain.”
The three siblings reportedly been subjected to abuse during interrogations, their family reported to rights groups, adding that Abdel Maksoud’s fingernails were pulled out.
Although a bail of 5,000 EGP ($638) for each one of them was posted, they were never released.
The court has been continuously postponing their appeal sessions; their next hearing is scheduled for May 28.
“I am just asking for a rapid and fair trial, good treatment in prison and medical care for his heart disease,” she added.
Press behind bars
Two imprisoned journalists Youssef Shaaban and Mahmoud Abu Zaid (known as Shawkan) are suffering complications of Hepatitis C, and say they are not receiving adequate care in prison.
Although some of the journalists arrested were caught while on duty, they face charges not linked to their work, and mostly accused of affiliations with a banned group.
In its 2015 report, the Committee to protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Egypt the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide, saying that Egypt’s imprisonment of journalist is “at an all-time high.”
Journalists Against Torture Observatory (JATO) has documented 90 different violation cases during January mostly committed by government agencies and officials, according to the NGO’s monthly report on Feb.19.
The violations involved: verbal and physical abuse, prevention of coverage, arrests, storming headquarters of press foundations and damaging media equipment.
Prominent investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat was recently banned from departing Egypt; the government did not disclose the reason why.