Thousands of people are wrongly imprisoned around the world on false accounts.
Rahma is a 24-year-old Egyptian now living in Norway. Her father was taken from her family home in Egypt and has been wrongly imprisoned since 2018.
This is her story.
“In 2011, there was a revolution in Egypt, and then one year of democracy in 2012. In 2013, there was a military coup.
The few years after the coup was the worst period when many people were arrested. We would hear very hard stories in these years of killings and imprisonment.
My father is an influential University Professor. He used to teach at the biggest public University in Cairo. He was loved by all his students and used his position not only to educate his students in science and engineering but also in life.
My Dad had a YouTube channel with over a million views, where he used to record himself at home and give free thermodynamics and engineering lessons. He felt a responsibility to share the knowledge he has with anyone who needs it.
He was a person who would speak his opinions publicly without any fear. If he was opposing the regime, or if there was any oppression going on, he would talk about it.
It would be more than just an opinion; he would also analyse and bring in history, read books and share parts that reflect on the current state.
We survived that rough period after the coup, and no one came near our family. We thought that we were safe.
However, in 2018, they suddenly raided our house at 1 AM. They took my father and he disappeared for nine months. We didn’t know where he was and we had no contact with him. No lawyer had any contact with him.
After nine months, he resurfaced and was accused of joining a terrorist organisation and moved to prison. —This is an accusation they would give to any politically affiliated prisoner that they want to keep in jail for endless years.
It’s a very broad accusation, and there’s no way to prove it. It’s an umbrella that they put all opposition under.
In the beginning, we used to visit him once a week, and then when COVID hit, they stopped visitations completely for six months. After they opened visitation again, it was behind bars once a month and only one family member could visit at a time.
We are a family of seven, and one person visiting means if we rotate, each one of us would see our father once a year.
It’s still the case now, the only thing that’s different is that they removed the bars between prisoners and visitors.
Going to al-Qanater prison tomorrow to visit my dad. I will finally get to hug him for the first time in 3 years, as they’ve uninstalled the bars they put between prisoners and visitors during COVID.
Tonight I’m an excited little girl eager to see her dad. 🙂
— Rahma • رحمة (@rfateen) January 8, 2023
Of course, the politics, uprisings and revolution of Egypt affected me. My father played a crucial role in educating me about the situation, and I would often accompany him to participate in protests. I was only 13 years old when the revolution hit in 2011.
I used to go with him to Tahrir Square and he would tell me why we were protesting, who the bad people were, and why we wanted them removed from power.
I was pretty informed since I was very young, and that made me want to understand more.
However, after the coup and the series of violent incidents that followed, I began to question everything and was psychologically affected by the events.
I had a strong desire to comprehend the complexities of the world and hence decided to pursue Political Science at Cairo University. Sadly, my father was arrested in my third year.
The personal and the public were very intertwined. I had lots of friends and family friends arrested. I felt a strong urge to do something for them. Then my father became one of these people, so it became a lot more personal.
We were used to people getting arrested around us, so we knew that when officers raided our house in the middle of the night that they would probably take him to prison.
A couple of years before my father was taken, we were closely involved with a family friend who had also been going through the same thing and we would help them prepare for their visits. I would be involved with their lawyers and follow the court hearings.
We knew a little about how things would go, and how to handle it. But at the same time, when it actually happens to you, you can never know.
There’s no guide on how to react or how to maintain yourself.”
I had a midterm exam the following day. I was staying at my parent’s house because during exams we don’t have classes, so luckily, I was there the night before my father was arrested.
I had spent the evening with him. He was having dinner and I was chatting with him about this guy who proposed, and everything was so normal. I was studying at the dining table, and I even left my laptop on there.
It was 1 AM when I heard banging on our door. I thought one of my brothers came home late, so I went back to sleep. A couple of minutes later, my mom came to my room and told me to cover up. ‘They’re here’, she said.
I put my hijab on and then I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I just stayed in my room upstairs; I didn’t know if I should go down and see what was happening.
Later I regretted that I didn’t go and hug my dad for the last time, but you can’t expect yourself to think straight when your house is being raided in the middle of the night!
Thankfully, my younger brothers didn’t wake up. They just took my dad, all the laptops, cameras and everything that was valuable, and left.
Of course, I couldn’t sleep again. I had my midterm in a couple of hours. I was questioning whether I should go at all or just skip the test. But my mom told me to go; I don’t even know how I passed that test.
I went back home and learned from my mom that she had spoken with a lawyer, and he was trying to find out where he was.
He told us to pack some stuff that he would give to my dad. We spent the whole day buying essentials that he might need.
We later learned that that lawyer was a scam and that he never met him and never gave him the things we had prepared. But at the time, we didn’t know and were just clinging to any kind of hope that he was okay.
“In general, I feel like what’s been keeping my family going is the belief that it’s for a good cause. My father didn’t do anything wrong. He wouldn’t harm a fly as they say in Egypt. We’re living under the rule of despot who’s abusing his power and punishing anyone who dares to speak.
We’re trying to be patient by reminding ourselves that a believer who’s tested is the best kind of believer and we’re being rewarded for every minute of pain and struggle.
My father has been keeping himself occupied. I think that’s the biggest thing that’s been maintaining his sanity. He always tells me that the inmates who have nothing to do are the most depressed and sad.
He memorised the whole Quran in prison, mashallah. He learnt German, and he’s now teaching his inmates German. Sometimes they ban books, but whenever there’s an opportunity for us to send him books, we do.
In general, he’s keeping himself occupied by learning new stuff, trying to teach the people around him, reading books, and playing chess.
He will always tell us that it’s some kind of test and we’re going to be fine. I remember the very first letter he sent us when he resurfaced in a prison after nine months of disappearance.
He wrote a couple of ayahs that he had been contemplating about. People who are the most righteous are the ones who are tested in their faith.”
When Baba resurfaced after 9 months of forced disappearance, the very first letter he sent included verses 19-24 of Surah Ar-Ra’d. He had spent the 9 months memorizing the Qura’n since he was deprived of everything else and handcuffed all the time. pic.twitter.com/rsuETyTWKU
— Rahma • رحمة (@rfateen) February 22, 2023
My mom has also grown to be much more spiritual and pious.
When you’re feeling helpless, you pray and make supplications. That’s what my mother has been doing and has been trying to instil into us as well.
Of course, everyone has their own personal journey. I’ve had fluctuations. For some periods of time, I have been very close to God.
This would bring me comfort and perseverance. Sometimes, I would be so depressed and helpless that I can’t pray and ask for anything.
Other times, I would feel completely pessimistic. We’ve been hearing many stories of people in the community who’ve been arrested for 10+ years, and there’s no way out. Sometimes I’m convinced that whatever I do, nothing’s going to get them out.
Right now, I try to focus on things that I can do. I’ve been doing more advocacy work, working with human rights organisations, and trying to be more public about my father.
Although I can’t see any results, I am doing what I can, and that gives me comfort.
My experience has also been reflected in my research work. I’m currently doing my master’s and studying families of political prisoners. I’m talking with different people and hearing many stories, most of them are a lot harder than what I’m going through.
It gives me solace as I know I’m not alone. Even though I’m going through a difficult time, alhamdulillah, I have a lot of blessings around me. “
If you believe you can help aid Rahma in her fight for her father’s freedom, please get in touch with her.