Fears for SA dad in Egypt jail
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Johannesburg - Bilaal and Al-Zahra Bassiouni fear they may never see their father again. Detained in an Egyptian prison for more than four months now, Sheikh Abdel Bassiouni has still to be charged with any crime.
And despite being a South African citizen and resident for more than 20 years, the government has told The Star there is nothing it can do to help him.
The prominent local scholar was detained in December after he flew into Egypt for Al-Zahra’s engagement party.
He and Bilaal were taken in for questioning over whether they had any connection to the banned Islamic organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Bilaal told The Star he and his father had been interrogated for hours despite having no affiliation with the organisation. They were subjected to invasive searches and intimidation tactics, he said. And, while the younger Bassiouni was released the next day, his father remained in prison, with limited - and occasionally totally restricted - access to legal representation or his relatives.
Family attorney Farhana Ismail said no charges had been levelled against the sheikh and no charge sheet had been provided by Egyptian police or prosecutors.
According to relatives who have visited Bassiouni, he is taken regularly to the local prosecution offices, where his detention is extended by two weeks at a time to avoid actively charging him.
Ismail said the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) had planned to meet with the legal representatives in December, agreeing to bring in the local Egyptian ambassador to address the issue.
However, at the meeting on January 22, Ismail was told that local authorities said they could not interfere with the legal process of another country. Bassiouni holds dual South African and Egyptian citizenship.
“Further to this, the South African embassy in Cairo has still not gained access to the sheikh and neither have the embassy or Dirco contacted our offices or the family to enquire as to the status of the matter or provide any feedback. Dirco has remained silent on the matter,” said Ismail.
The family’s two letters sent to the Presidency also went unanswered.
Dirco spokesman Clayson Monyela confirmed that no charge sheet or proof of charges had been handed over to local authorities and that the Egyptian government and Presidency had refused access to Bassiouni.
“They arrested him as an Egyptian citizen,” said Monyela, “our hands are tied.”
He denied claims that Dirco had not been in contact with the family and said the department was doing its utmost to appeal for access to the sheikh.
“We haven’t stopped engaging, we are still working on this.”
But this is little comfort for the Bassiouni family, who remain anxious over the 64-year-old’s health and welfare.
Bilaal has been informed that his father has not been receiving his chronic medication, and has been injured while incarcerated.
“We believe there is more to come from the South African government… they should and must act,” said Bilaal.
Al-Zahra is racked with guilt over her father being detained while on his way to her engagement party.
“It was going to be such a happy occasion, now everything has changed. I’m devastated,” said the 22-year-old.
“I want my father to come back. We don’t know who can help us,” she said.