Earlier this week, Omar Hazek was prevented from leaving Egypt to receive the 2016 Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression:
What follows is a transcript of the talk he would’ve given, in translation, if he’d been there to receive his free-speech award:
PEN International and Oxfam Novib, Ladies & Gentlemen:
I would like to thank you for your great efforts in supporting the persecuted writers worldwide, and I would like to express my great gratitude for being here with you.
Allow me to dedicate my thanking speech to tell of some of the oppressed voices behind Egyptian bars. For almost two years, I went through this cruel ordeal and experienced firsthand what it means to be deprived of one’s freedom, like thousands of political & criminal prisoners, without having a voice that can speak your words of suffering. For them and about them, let me speak for a few minutes.
Let me tell you of the Egyptian poetess Shimaa El Sabbagh, a young woman killed in a peaceful march and wreath-laying ceremony commemorating the martyrs of 25 of January Revolution.
Let me tell you of the Egyptian poet Ahmed Doma, who was detained 18 times during Mubarak and SCAF’s regimes, and is currently sentenced for 31 years of imprisonment! Doma was part of the most influential political youth movements that fueled the 25th of January Revolution. He is also known as the Butterflies Hunter as he, during demonstrations, caught with his hands a large number of tear gas bombs and threw them away from demonstrators.
Let me tell you of the blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, co-recipient, with his wife Manal, of the “Reporters without Borders” Award. Alaa decided to return with his wife to Egypt, leaving behind his prospering future abroad, to participate in the January Revolution. Today he stand as one of its icons as he has suffered torture, persecution and imprisonment under successive regimes.
Let me tell you of the photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zaid who was assaulted in the line of duty, arrested while covering the Dismissal of Rabaa in August 2013. Till the present day, he is held without trial despite the appeals made by many international journalism institutions.
Let me tell you of the poet Ahmed Said, the vascular surgeon in Germany who was arrested for participating in a silent rally during his holiday, and about the poet Mohamed Fawzy, a university student who received a life sentence: both are in prison at present, writing poetry on their love for Egypt.
Let me tell you of the lawyer Mahinour El Masry, the youngAlexandrian woman who led along with other activists the protests against the brutal murder of the Alexandrian Khaled Saeed, the Icon of the Egyptian revolution. Later on she was at the heart of the demonstrations of the January revolution in Alexandria where she has become one of its icons. In 2014, she was awarded the Ludovic-Trarieux Award, given before to Mandela, in recognition of her efforts and for being detained repeatedly by the Egyptian regimes.
Let me tell you of another detained writer, Ismaiel El-Eskandrani the researcher, columnist and reporter. He is a winner of the fellowships of Woodrow Wilson Center’s Visiting Arab Journalist Program and Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program. He has also won the Open Eye-Hany Darweesh Award for exceptional essay (Germany, 2014) and the Global Youth Essay on Democracy Contest (2009).
Let me tell of the journalist Youssef Shabaan who is infected by Hepatitis C and who is deprived of medications in prison despite the deterioration of his health. Youssef has shared the revolutionary dream with Mahinour and the rest of the Alexandrian activists and participated with them in the protests against the regime. He was previously framed by Moubarak’s regime in a falsified drug case during his coverage of labor protests.
It was behind the former three; Mahinour, Shabaan and El Eskandranin, that I stood cheering during Khaled Saeed’s protests in 2010 in Alexandria. And if I feel obliged to anyone beside my family for helping me endure my imprisonment ordeal; I will always be in debt to those three who taught me along with others my first lessons of freedom and dreaming of a better Egypt. Those three in particular, although they are younger than me, they have always inspired and taught me how to conquer fear and defend our dreams until the last minute in our lives.
Dear friends, I am really sorry for being out free while you are held there, but we will always remain Comrades of Dream and Freedom.
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My heart aches for these people.