After a court rejected an appeal filed by the prosecution against his release, rights lawyer Malek Adly was released and free again by late August. He had been detained on charges of inciting protests and attempting to topple the regime, among many other charges. Nevertheless, Adly was mainly detained as he was among many activists who had protested against the maritime demarcation deal between Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the sovereignty of Red Sea islands Tiran and Sanafir.
In an interview with Daily News Egypt, Adly disclosed what he had experienced during his imprisonment, and how he dealt with the arbitrariness of the prison administration.
How was your solitary confinement experience?
Solitary confinement is a tough experience on the humanitarian level. Inside prison, you live with nothing but your own fears. I was always worried─about my wife, my daughter, my friends, and my work.
I was also afraid that I was all alone, and that if something would have happened to me, there was no way I would be rescued.
Tell us about your time in solitary confinement?
It was my first time for me to understand the true meaning of ‘boredom kills’, and that your bitter enemy in confinement was time itself. You have to pass the time, and to do that, you need get distracted. Even if there is nothing to distract you, you have to create and find something that will.
How did you distract yourself in order to pass time?
You do things that a wise man would never do, but you have to. For instance, writing on the wall with a nail, or try and be friends with the insects and bugs inside your prison cell, because even if you try to exercise, like running on the same spot, you won’t have the energy to do so.
What were your biggest fears?
The main thing I did inside was try not to lose my mind, and not to go insane. I wanted to get out as a steady and stable person.
A lot of prisoners that were detained prior to my arrival had gone insane from what they had seen in prison. Solitary confinement is a harsh and tough experience─not only physically, but especially psychologically.
There is nothing you can spend your time doing, due to the limited space of the cell, which does not allow you to do anything at all.
Also, how would you overcome difficulties inside prison? You have to wear the same clothes for 15 days in a row, you start hating yourself, and the food you eat contains insects and bugs. There are a lot of insects in the cell, as well.
The only person who would be happy in a cell is an entomologist, because he will find new species that have not been studied or discovered yet.
When did you feel really imprisoned? When was the world outside unattainable?
I got this feeling from the very first moment. Everything that happens inside prison makes you feel you are really imprisoned, like the opening and closing of the cell door. But I got used to that.
What was your worst experience inside the prison?
I was really disappointed when I saw how they treated Hossam Hassan in the prison.
This was the first time I thought of leaving the country, once I get released. There was something severely wrong. I couldn’t understand the major differentiation between the prisoners.
I don’t hold any grudges against Hassan. I appreciate his contributions to sports, and I would be happy if there were a prisoner who was not suffering. However, I was witnessing crystal clear discrimination.
They used to clean his cell before he came and even provided him with a TV and a heater.
Hassan was staying in the cell across from mine, and every time they got him something, they tried to hide it so I wouldn’t see it.
The weird thing is that Hassan hit a photographer working with the Ministry of Interior, and I was charged because I said that Tiran and Sanafir islands are Egyptian. It was painful to listen to Hassan watching a football match in his cell.
That was the time I lost my mind. We are good people as well, and we did nothing wrong whatsoever, so why all this arbitrariness?
It’s not only painful for a prisoner to be treated badly, but it is even more painful to watch other prisoners enjoy themselves.
What did the small openings in the door of the cell represent to you?
These openings were like a gate for me. I used to imagine that there was a concert by Um Kolthoum on the other side, and I would see myself standing there, smoking, and drinking tea or coffee, and I would just relax and enjoy my time.
Did you ever get the feeling that you have to take a step back from your stances and cases?
I never lost hope. You only need time to realise the situation you are in.
Maybe sometimes you say to yourself that you are going to be imprisoned for a long time, however, my situation was different. My wife and my friends are real fighters. They helped me while I was in prison. They fought for allowing books into my cell, and I thought about it as an ordeal that would come to an end.
I also trusted my lawyers and colleagues, and knew that they would take care of my work, wife, and daughter.
I am lucky to have my family. They were very strong. I am also honoured by the case I am imprisoned for. I was neither ashamed of my imprisonment, nor of the dirty white clothes I wore, or the handcuffs on my hands. I got used to the idea that you are driven and don’t have freedom, but that’s why I came out alive.
In your opinion, why did this happen to you?
I would never get an answer to that question, unless I see the person who made the decision, and ask him.
I want to understand: what is the hostility between me and whoever put me in that situation? If freedom of speech is wrong in this country, there are a lot of people other than me who are more brave and have a louder voice, so why me?
What is your next step?
I consider my prison time as if it never happened. I will resume my work, and I will get back to my previous life. I will be attending the sessions of detained political activists. I will attend the upcoming hearings in the case of the demarcation deal between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. I will also try to avoid the negative energy that the prison induced and try to benefit from the experience . The revolution continues.
Is going back to your usual life after all that time difficult?
Going back all of a sudden to do the things you used to is difficult. I feel like I am a robot. I do the things I used to unconsciously.
I use my mobile phone because I know how to. This is my daughter, so I hug her. I don’t want to think that I was deprived from things like my wife’s hug, my friends, my books, my office, and my work. I don’t want to think that way so I don’t feel irritated.
I was very happy doing ordinary things, like putting money in my pocket, and taking a taxi and paying him.
What about the Red Sea islands case?
We proved to the court that Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian. We won this. In my opinion, the bail for the detainees─which had reached EGP 5m─was collected and paid rather quickly. It shows that there is strong solidarity with our case.
Throughout Egypt’s history, no one ever took territory from Egypt; and it won’t happen now.
I am calling on the authorities who approved of the agreement to apologise to the Egyptian people who bled for them, and to admit that the islands are Egyptian.
We are waiting for the appeal from the Supreme Administrative Court, and I hope it will be in our favour. I hope that the parliament won’t intervene in the decision.
How did you know about the court verdict?
My wife came to visit me and she was very well-dressed. She had gone to the hairdresser and wore makeup. I didn’t get it at first, and then when she saw me, she started cheering, and told me that we had won the Red Sea islands case.
My happiness back then was indescribable, and she secretly passed me a paper with the verdict in a juice bottle.
The verdict was well written, and I thought that this prison sentence was not in vain. I secretly passed on the verdict to detained journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud Al-Saqa, and they shed tears of joy.
Who sent you the first letter?
My wife got all the letters written for me from her Facebook inbox, printed them, and gave them to me. These letters included poems about Bahia (Malek’s daughter).
There were other letters from friends in which they said how much they missed me─besides the letters from my wife, of course.
What was the first letter you wrote from prison?
In one of my appeal sessions, I saw tears in my wife’s eyes. She was overwhelmed by what Al-Saqa said in court.
I tried to alleviate the severity of the situation by joking with Al-Saqa. I told him that he made her cry and I will make his life miserable. I also told him that the next time he should just say funny things, and I wrote her a letter telling her that she is my backbone, and that I gain my strength from her.
She was imprisoned before I was, so she helped and gave me advice on how to avoid diseases.
Did you ever feel that you are on your own in this case?
No, this case will never be forgotten and is one of the most significant cases of this decade. The way people cared about us, and demanded our freedom reveals how much they care about the Red Islands case.