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By WSJ –

Shady Habash was one of thousands of artists and activists arrested in recent years as Abdel Fattah Al Sisi attempts to snuff out potential challenges to his rule.

An Egyptian filmmaker detained for two years over a music video that mocked Egypt President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi has died, his family said Saturday, another death inside the country’s prisons that human-rights groups have criticized for their harsh treatment of prisoners.

Shady Habash, 24 years old, was one of tens of thousands of artists, activists, protesters and others arrested in Egypt in recent years as Mr. Sisi attempts to snuff out potential challenges to his rule in the years following the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

Relatives of Mr. Habash confirmed his death in statements on Facebook, but didn’t say how he died. He had been held without trial at Cairo’s notorious Tora prison since 2018. He was accused of a range of crimes he denied, such as membership in a terrorist group and spreading false news.

Egyptian authorities didn’t comment on Mr. Habash’s death. A spokesman for the government didn’t respond to a request for comment on the matter.

His death comes amid growing concern about conditions in Egypt’s crowded prisons following the death of a hunger-striking Egyptian-American prisoner in January. Human-rights groups are also calling on Egypt to release prisoners to forestall the spread of the coronavirus in prisons where detainees say they lack adequate medical care.

Mr. Habash was arrested in March 2018 after he directed a music video for Ramy Essam, an Egyptian rock musician who attained fame singing onstage in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the 2011 revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Mr. Essam now lives in exile in Sweden.

The video was titled “Balaha,” an Arabic word for date and a reference to a derisive nickname for Mr. Sisi. The video had been viewed 5.4 million times on YouTube.

In a letter from prison published on Mr. Essam’s website dated Oct. 26, 2019, Mr. Habash wrote, “Prison doesn’t kill, loneliness does.”

An Egyptian-American dual citizen named Moustafa Kassem, who was 54 years old, died in a Cairo prison following a hunger strike in January, resulting in a rare public rebuke of the Egyptian government from the Trump administration.

Egyptian former President Mohammed Morsi, who was deposed in a military coup in 2013, died in June 2019 after years in prison, after his family and lawyers warned that he had been denied adequate medical care.

Mr. Sisi came to power following the 2013 military takeover and set in motion a political clampdown that severely curtailed freedom of expression in Egypt. Earlier in April Egyptian lawmakers voted to expand the president’s powers in light of the coronavirus pandemic, granting him increased authority over schools, universities, workplaces, public gatherings, and increased power to allocate funds.


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