8 May 2020
We, the undersigned, call for the immediate release of Mustafa Gamal from prison in Egypt. His imprisonment in pre-trial detention is an egregious instance of the Egyptian government’s continuing crackdown on freedom of expression, in violation of international human rights conventions to which Egypt is a signatory. His detention was renewed on 6 May for a further 45 days, in breach of the two-year limit on pre-trial detention.
Mustafa Gamal was arrested in 2018, accused of being a member of a terrorist group, spreading false news and the abuse of social media networks.
These are baseless charges.
Mustafa Gamal is a social media administrator. We believe that he has been targeted because of his former association with the musician Ramy Essam, whose fan page he certified on Facebook in 2015. Ramy Essam’s songs were the anthem of the Egyptian revolution. Essam was arrested, tortured, his songs were banned and he was forbidden from performing in public. He has been in exile since 2014.
Mustafa Gamal is among a number of Egyptians who have been arrested because of their connections with Essam, victims of the Egyptian government’s vindictive response to any perceived criticism of its authoritarian regime.
In 2018, Ramy Essam released the viral hit song and video, Balaha, which aimed to raise discussion on violence, oppression and corruption in Egypt.
The lyricist of Balaha, poet Galal El-Behairy, was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. The 24-year-old director of the song’s video, Shady Habash, was also arrested and held in pre-trial detention. He died in prison on Saturday, 2 May, the third death in ten months among prisoners of conscience in Tora prison. Human rights activists have disputed Egypt’s account of his death, attributing it to medical negligence. Habash’s tragic death highlights the continuing injustice of the imprisonment of El-Behairy and Gamal.
Mustafa Gamal played no role in the production of Balaha and has had no contact with Ramy Essam since 2015.
None of these individuals has committed any crime. No artist should face arrest for their work.
We call for the immediate release of Mustafa Gamal and Galal El-Behairy along with all political prisoners in Egypt, and for an independent investigation into the circumstances and cause of Shady Habash’s death. Deprived of their freedom on baseless grounds, these prisoners of conscience now additionally face risks to their health in Egypt’s overcrowded prisons with the spread of Covid-19.
Art is not a crime. Freedom of expression is a right. Dissent is not terrorism.
Artists at Risk (AR)
European Music Council
Index on Censorship
International Music Council
PEN America, Artists at Risk Connection (ARC)