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'I Witnessed Prisoners Screaming'

Egypt -- 8February2011
Feryal Hussein: First of all, praise be to God for your safety.
How do you view your experience of being detained in Cairo and how it relates to your work as a journalist who has been practicing this profession for 30 years?

Abdelilah Nuaimi: Before I begin the story of my introduction to the Egyptian 'Mabaheth' (Intelligence Service), I would like to talk about the Egyptians who were with me in my place of detention. What I underwent there can be described as a picnic compared to the treatment to which those Egyptians were subjected at the hands of the investigators. I could not see them because I was hand-cuffed and blindfolded, but I could hear their screams when they were being electro-shocked and beaten.

Feryal Hussein: That can be considered part of the prisoner's torture: hearing the moans and screams of pain caused by others' torture.

Abdelilah Nuaimi: Well, I would just like to convey the suffering of dissidents in these police states. Nobody – neither human nor animal – deserves the treatment to which those people were subjected.

Feryal Hussein: Were the detainees from among the protestors?

Abdelilah Nuaimi: I don't really know. All I could hear were their screams, and the insults coming from the investigators...the accusations of treason and so on. I expect, given the situation during this period, that they were from among the protesters -- dissidents and those who took part in the demonstrations.

Feryal Hussein: Were you being abused only for being a journalist, carrying the 'tools' of your profession? Does your detention mean that journalists are to be feared by these police regimes?

Abdelilah Nuaimi: Actually, I discovered that despite their harsh abuse, those people are exceptionally stupid. They prevented us from covering the events, but they put us in a torture cell where we saw what was much worse than what was going on in Tahrir Square.

Feryal Hussein: You were in fact eyewitnesses...

Abdelilah Nuaimi: Not just eyewitnesses; we were also 'earwitnesses.'

Feryal Hussein: The fact that you were detained for being a journalist indicates that they are against journalistic freedom and against freedom of expression, common characteristics of dictatorial regimes.

Abdelilah Nuaimi: The cliché about the power of words was proved by those people. They do, in fact, fear words more than they fear bullets.

Feryal Hussein: There was another journalist with you but he was a British citizen. Did the fact that you are not an Egyptian and that you are a foreign national mitigate your circumstances vis-a-vis the investigators?

Abdelilah Nuaimi: No, it did not help. In fact, I was beaten because I asked questions: "why are we being detained?" "what is the crime we have committed?" "what are we accused of?" The answer to these questions was more beating. That means that they don't know any laws. We were arrested arbitrarily, without being charged with anything. Only that we had come to convey the events being seen in Egypt, and being seen all over the world on television.

Feryal Hussein: Do you intend to raise a case against the Egyptian government or the investigators? Or submit a complaint to an an advocacy group?

Abdelilah Nuaimi: As I said in the beginning, my experience can be considered a picnic when compared to the suffering of those detained Egyptians. I should primarily complain about, and convey the suffering of, those other dissident detainees; to convey the plight of dissidents in police states. To convey them to human rights organizations and to the UN, in order to put an end [to such treatment]. How long will such regimes continue to suffocate their people?

Feryal Hussein: Do you plan to record your detention experience?

Abdelilah Nuiami: Well, if the opportunity should arise, it certainly deserves to be recorded. In spite of the fact that it did not last long, it was still a real nightmare. Imagine standing there, handcuffed and blindfolded, and forbidden to speak. They tell you that, “speaking is forbidden here. Do you understand?” When you say that you understand, you are struck. When they accuse you of being a dumb animal, effectively demanding that you respond, you are then struck again for speaking. And so on.

Feryal Hussein: That is in addition to the insults and the use of abusive language.

Abdelilah Nuaimi: I hadn’t imagined that the Egyptian dictionary is so rich in such obscene and abusive language. The investigators have indeed enriched the Arabic language with obscene expressions.

Feryal Hussein:
Your account today reminds me of what the Iraqis were subjected to – and I don’t mean the opposition whose position was clear, but also the silent ones, whether men or women.

Abdelilah Nuaimi: I can imagine the plight of the Iraqis under a regime like the former one. But this was Egypt, which is said to enjoy a margin of freedom, treating its dissident citizens in this way. What, then, of a regime like Saddam Hussein’s? The name by which it was known was, “The Republic of Fear.”

Feryal Hussein:
We offer our sincere thanks to our friend and colleague, Abdelilah Nuaimi, while thanking God for his safety and his safe return. Today he is with us in the studio. We pray that nobody has to have such an experience.

Translated by Ayad Al-Gailani from Arabic.