The wife of detained journalist Hesham Gaafar said she received phone calls from two individuals claiming to be a police officer and a prison official demanding a large sum of money in exchange for her husband’s release from prison.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) filed a petition with the prosecutor general for an immediate inquiry into the matter on Wednesday.
Gaafar, a journalist from the Mada Foundation for Media Development, has been in pretrial detention since October 2015 on charges of international bribery and membership of an outlawed organization. Gaafar is currently in Al-Aqrab (Scorpion) maximum security prison in Cairo.
Gaafar’s wife, Manar al-Tantawy, told Mada Masr she received the first phone call on March 28, when a man who claimed to be from the Interior Ministry said he was calling on behalf of Gaafar and requested LE120,000.
Hesham told Tantawy during visitation shortly afterwards that he wasn’t aware of such a man. “This is a scam. You should inform the authorities about this incident,” he advised her.
Tantawy received a second call from a man claiming to be the head of the prison’s medical committee on March 30, but she cut the phone call short when he mentioned money.
“If it is true that the callers are from the authorities, this means that some security personnel have been acting as gang members who openly trade in the pain of prisoners amid the absence of the rule of law,” ANHRI’s statement read, adding, “If they are merely swindlers, this also means that they are attempting to scam the families of prisoners, and to exploit their suffering for profit.”
Tantawy claims Gaafar has been unlawfully detained and denied his basic rights, an assertion supported by the ANHRI. “The imprisonment of Hesham Gaafar is unjust and prolonged. He has become like a hostage, or a forgotten prisoner, languishing in his cell,” the organization asserts.
Gaafar received foreign funding for his media organization, but only in full compliance with Egyptian law, according to Tantawy, who added, “This funding had been cleared by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, tax authorities and all other state authorities. He committed no criminal act.”
Gaafar was moved from Tora prison to Al-Aqrab maximum security prison with no explanation as to why, Tantawy told Mada Masr, adding that he has not been able to receive visitors since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a state of emergency for three months on April 9.
“I have no political demands regarding Hesham, I only ask that he be granted the right to healthcare and a clean prison cell,” Tantawy said, adding that this is not a right that is just being denied to her husband, and that thousands of others are in similar situations.