Wednesday 3 June 2020

The Death in Illegal Custody of Shady Habash

22 May 2020

To His Excellency Omar Marwan, Egyptian Minister of Justice:

We, the undersigned, call for an open and transparent investigation into the jailing and death of Shady Habash, a 24-year-old filmmaker who died in custody earlier this month. Furthermore, we call on you to immediately release all artists and writers in pre-trial detention for merely exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression.

Habash died while being held in the maximum-security Tora Prison on May 2, 2020. Arrested in March 2018, he had been in pre-trial detention for 793 days, despite the fact that Egyptian law only allows a maximum of two years’ pre-trial detention. Such detention is meant to be an exceptional measure of last resort to hold suspected criminals that authorities believe pose an imminent threat if released. All Habash did was direct a music video. His case never went to trial, nor was he charged with a crime.

The public prosecutor issued a statement on May 5 claiming that Habash died from drinking sanitizing alcohol, thinking it was water, and a state autopsy report on May 11 allegedly confirmed the cause of death as alcohol poisoning. Such reports have several apparent inconsistencies, including whether Habash knew he was drinking alcohol and when—or if—doctors decided to transfer him to an external hospital. Even if the reports are taken at face value, Tora Prison officials were apparently medically negligent in their lack of response. Habash’s fellow inmates reportedly yelled and made noise from their cell for hours while Habash was dying, to no avail. Habash’s family deserves the truth about the circumstances surrounding his death––and why he was illegally detained in the first place––which can only be achieved through a thorough and proper investigation.

Habash was one of eight people who were detained in March 2018 for their reported involvement in exiled musician Ramy Essam’s song, “Balaha,” which criticized the Egyptian government and was released in February 2018 on YouTube. However, Habash played no role in developing the song’s content and only directed the accompanying music video. We remain seriously concerned about the continued pre-trial detention of Mustafa Gamal, who merely verified Ramy Essam’s Facebook page, and Galal El-Behairy, who penned the lyrics to “Balaha” and remains behind bars, serving a three-year sentence.

It is our contention that these arrests were a grave infringement of freedom of expression, contrary to both international and Egyptian law. But these are not the only cases that––we fear––represent deepening repression of free expression and artistic freedom in Egypt. In recent years, we have seen a disturbing trend in the number of artists, journalists, and writers held in pre-trial detention in Egypt for expressing their views, including:

* Alaa Abdel Fattah, a 38-year-old blogger and activist detained in September 2019––after a number of past arrests––who remains in pre-trial detention today without charge. He is currently on a hunger strike to protest prison conditions, raising serious concerns about his well-being (UPDATE: Fattah recently suspended his 36-day hunger strike).

* Solafa Magdy, a 33-year-old freelance reporter arrested in November 2019 who remains in pre-trial detention today without charge, alongside her husband, journalist Hossam el-Sayyad.

* Shady Abouzeid, a 27-year-old satirist, video blogger, and former television personality, who is currently in pre-trial detention without charge.
While we also understand that your office is taking strides to ensure public health in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, the pandemic does not justify the suspension of fair trial guarantees––as both the World Health Organization and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have affirmed. In fact, there is a profound public health argument toward releasing pre-trial detainees simply to lower the rate of coronavirus transmission in prison.

Habash’s case has sent a heartbreakingly clear message to artists and writers throughout Egypt: Independent expression may lead to years-long illegal detention, and even death, in custody.

Your Excellency, we strongly urge you to release all artists and writers currently held in pre-trial detention for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression, especially in light of COVID-19, which now ravages prisons around the world. Likewise, we demand a proper investigation into Shady Habash’s death and illegal detention. If he had been set free, he would still be with us today.


Africa Human Rights Network (AHRN)*
Aid A – Aid for Artist in Exile
Arterial Network*
Artistic Freedom Initiative (AFI)
Artist Protection Fund
Artists at Risk (AR)
Art Moves Africa
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Avant-Garde Lawyers (AGL)
Belady U.S.: An Island for Humanity
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Danish PEN
Danish Film Directors
Der Bundesverband Regie (BVR)
Directors Guild of Flanders | Unie van Regisseurs
Directors Guild of Norway
Documentarist ıstanbul Documentary Days
Dutch Directors Guild
English PEN
European Film Academy
European Music Council
Festival international Signes de Nuit
Hamburger Stiftung für politisch Verfolgte | Hamburg Foundation for Politically Persecuted Persons
Hammerl Arts Rights Transfer (HART)*
Humanists International
Human Rights Film Network (HRFN)
Index on Censorship
International Arts Rights Advisors (IARA)
International Documentary Association (IDA)
International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA)
International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH)
International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR)
International Theatre Institute: Action committee for Artists Right
Ithaca City of Asylum
MENA Rights Group
Movies that Matter
National Association of Film Authors (ANAC)
Nhimbe Trust
On the Move (OTM)
PEN America*
PEN Georgia
PEN Lebanon
PEN International
PEN Nigeria
PEN Uganda*
Res Artis
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Safe Havens – the Malmö Meetings*
Société des Réalisateurs de Films (SRF)
Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)*
Sundance Institute
Swedish PEN
Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
The Federation of European Film Directors (FERA)
The Federation of European Screenwriters (FSE)
The Museum of Movements*
Volksbühne Basel
Which Human Rights? Film Festival

* Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network member

Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network

HART Launches New Rapid Response Network to Support African Creatives

Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network will support artists and creative professionals who face threats to artistic expression

1 May 2020

Johannesburg – Today, in collaboration with nine partner organisations working in or on Africa, the Hammerl Arts Rights Transfer (HART) co-launches Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network. The initiative aims to help defend artistic freedom of expression in the region and ensure that creatives at risk can live and work without fear of reprisal. Through enhanced collaboration between member organisations, the network will provide rapid responses to creatives at risk in Africa, coordinate adequate support when artists and cultural professionals on the continent face danger because of their work, and support regional safe havens.

“Amani: Africa Creative Defence Network is a vital project that will ensure that creatives under threat in Africa receive assistance, but will also work to prevent those threats in the future,” said Valsero, a Cameroonian rapper who spent almost nine months in detention under false charges in 2019. “As the director of an organisation that supports artists in Africa, I know we can turn to the network whenever we need further assistance or have gaps in the services we can provide. It gives me hope that no artist will go without help. Now is the time for organisations in Africa to work collaboratively and build solidarity across borders in order to provide a safety net for artists of all disciplines. The network is a vital step toward that cross-country unity in the protection of creative freedom in Africa.”

Though many organisations operate nationally, regionally, and internationally with mandates focused on artistic freedom and protecting creatives at risk in Africa, a lack of clear communication among those organisations often causes assistance work to be duplicated and precludes artists from receiving adequate support in time. 

The network brings together organisations from across Africa and the globe, helping to streamline communication, share expertise and insights, pool resources, monitor threats to artistic freedom and creative professionals, and coordinate more effective responses when assisting creatives at risk. This will be achieved through the creation of a streamlined communication mechanism that will allow like-minded member organisations to work in concert and more easily coordinate joint efforts when assisting artists at risk. 

The current organisational members of the Amani* network are: 

Africa Human Rights Network (AHRN)
Arterial Network
Artists at Risk Connection of PEN America
Hammerl Arts Rights Transfer (HART)
The Museum of Movements
PEN Uganda
Safe Havens – the Malmö Meetings
Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)

Michael Schmidt, HART’s Fellowship Co-ordinator, declared: “Artists and cultural and creative workers of all disciplines are often the leading lights of their respective cultures’ attempts to navigate an increasingly complex and challenging world. Across Africa, these are the people who most often challenge repressive regimes and bigoted societies, presenting visions of more harmonious possibilities – and finding themselves in danger as a result. Founded by organisations attending the 6th annual Safe Havens gathering of the global arts rights justice sector, held in Cape Town last year, Amani aims to improve Africa’s continental networks in the sector and sharpen the ability of its protective mechanisms to respond to and assist creatives at risk.”

“Amani comes at a crucial moment for artistic freedom around the globe and in Africa,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection, a project of PEN America. “As authoritarian regimes in Africa crackdown on dissent, artists and creatives are bearing the brunt of the pressure, finding themselves at risk of threats, harassment, arrest, imprisonment, torture, and even death because of their creative work. Through the network, creatives at risk and the organisations that support them will not be alone. By contacting the network, artists and creative professionals can connect not with one but with numerous organisations across the continent and globe who can work together to more effectively ensure they get the support they need.”

Creative professionals at risk can fill out a secure form here, which is available in English and French. They can also contact the network via email at They will be asked to provide information about your circumstances, which will be treated in confidence and shared only through end-to-end encrypted platforms. ARC will then facilitate the activation of the network in order to provide the best response based on your needs.

* “Amani” means “peace” in Kiswahili, “strength” in Lhukonzo, and “hope” in Arabic.


En français: 

HART lance un nouveau réseau de réponse rapide pour soutenir les artistes africains

Amani: Le réseau africain de défense créative soutiendra les artistes et les professionnels de la création confrontés à des menaces pour leur expression artistique.

1 Mai 2020

Johannesburg – Aujourd'hui, en collaboration avec neuf organisations partenaires travaillant sur l'Afrique ou en Afrique, le Hammerl Arts Rights Transfer (HART) lance Amani : Le réseau africain de défense créative. Cette initiative vise à aider à défendre la liberté d'expression artistique sur le continent et à garantir que les créateurs en danger puissent vivre et travailler sans crainte de représailles. Grâce à une collaboration renforcée entre les organisations membres, le réseau apportera des réponses rapides aux créatifs en danger en Afrique, coordonnera un soutien adéquat lorsque des artistes et des professionnels de la culture africains sont menacés en raison de leur activité artistique, et de soutenir les espaces de refuge régionaux.

"Amani : Le réseau africain de défense créative est un projet essentiel qui permettra d'assurer que les créateurs menacés en Afrique reçoivent l’aide dont ils ont besoin, mais qui s'efforcera également d’anticiper de futures violations", a déclaré Valsero, un rappeur camerounais qui a passé près de neuf mois en détention sous de fausses accusations en 2019. "En tant que directeur d'une organisation qui soutient les artistes en Afrique, je sais que nous pouvons nous nous tourner vers ce réseau à chaque fois que nous aurons besoin d’assistance supplémentaire ou que nous ne serons pas en mesure d'offrir ces services nous mêmes. Cela me donne l'espoir qu'aucun artiste ne sera ignoré. Le temps est venu pour les organisations en Afrique de travailler ensemble et de construire une solidarité au-delà des frontières afin d'offrir un système de protection aux artistes de toutes les disciplines. Le réseau est une étape essentielle vers cette unité entre pays dans la sauvegarde de la liberté de création artistique en Afrique".

Bien que de nombreuses organisations opèrent aux niveaux national, régional et international avec des mandats centrés sur la liberté artistique et la protection des créateurs en danger en Afrique, un manque de communication claire entre ces organisations entraîne souvent une duplication du travail d'assistance et empêche les artistes de recevoir à temps un soutien approprié.

Le réseau rassemble des organisations d'Afrique et du monde entier, ce qui permet de mieux coordonner la communication, de partager les compétences et les connaissances, de mettre en commun les ressources, de surveiller les menaces qui pèsent sur la liberté artistique et les professionnels de la création, et de répondre plus efficacement aux besoins des créateurs en danger. Pour ce faire, un mécanisme de communication simplifié sera créé, qui permettra aux organisations membres partageant les mêmes idées de travailler de concert et de coordonner plus facilement leurs efforts communs lorsqu'elles viennent en aide à des artistes en danger.

Les organisations membres du réseau Amani sont:

      ●           Africa Human Rights Network (AHRN)
●  Alert-Artist-Afrik
●  Arterial Network
●  Artists at Risk Connection of PEN America
●  Freemuse
●  Hammerl Arts Rights Transfer (HART)
●  The Museum of Movements
●  PEN Uganda
●  Safe Havens – the Malmö Meetings

Michael Schmidt, coordinateur des bourses HART a déclaré : "Les artistes et créateurs de toutes les disciplines ainsi que les professionnels de la culture sont souvent les figures de proue de leurs cultures respectives pour naviguer dans un monde de plus en plus complexe et stimulant. Dans toute l'Afrique, ce sont eux qui défient le plus souvent les régimes répressifs et les sociétés sectaires, présentant des visions de possibilités plus harmonieuses - et qui se trouvent de ce fait en danger. Fondée par des organisations lors de la 6ème réunion annuelle des Safe Havens sur les droits artistiques dans le monde, qui s'est tenue au Cap l'année dernière, Amani vise à améliorer les réseaux continentaux africains dans le secteur et à renforcer la capacité de ses mécanismes à répondre et à aider les créateurs en danger."

"Amani arrive à un moment déterminant pour la liberté artistique dans le monde entier et en Afrique", a déclaré Julie Trébault, directrice d’Artists at Risk Connection, un projet de PEN America. "Alors que les régimes autoritaires en Afrique répriment la dissidence, les artistes et les créateurs sont victimes d'une forte pression, se trouvant harcelés et risquant les menaces, le l'arrestation, l'emprisonnement, la torture et même la mort a cause de leur travail artistique. Grâce à ce réseau, les créateurs en danger et les organisations qui les soutiennent ne seront pas seuls. En contactant le réseau, les artistes et les professionnels de la création se connectent non pas avec une mais avec de nombreuses organisations sur le continent et dans le monde entier. Celles-ci pourront ainsi travailler de concert pour leur offrir le soutien dont ils ont besoin de manière plus efficace”.

Les professionnels en danger peuvent remplir ici un formulaire sécurisé, disponible en anglais et en français. Ils peuvent également contacter le réseau par courrier électronique à l'adresse Il leur sera demandé de fournir des informations sur les circonstances, qui seront traitées de manière confidentielle et communiquées uniquement par le biais de plateformes cryptées. L'ARC facilitera ensuite l'activation du réseau afin de fournir la meilleure réponse en fonction de leurs besoins.