It has been 6 months since contact was lost with imprisoned Sheikh Zuheir Ashour. This long period of time didn’t push the National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) to reveal Sheikh Ashour’s fate or situation inside prison, where he is serving a 75-year prison term.
The NIHR didn’t comment on the repeated appeals filed by the family of prisoner Sheikh Zuheir and only reiterated what was said by the Interior Ministry that Sheikh Zuheir is refusing to call his family.
This prompted human rights organizations and figures to launch a campaign on social media outlets to express concern over the situation of Sheikh Zuheir Ashour. Dozens of photos, videos and appeals were posted urging the authorities to reveal his fate, months after contact was lost with him.
Sheikh Zuheir’s son, Ali (7), took part in the campaign and addressed his father with heartbreaking words: when will you get out of prison? I want to see you. I haven’t seen you all my life. Sheikh Zuheir was arrested on June 18, 2013 over his political activism.
Ashour was sentenced to life imprisonment 3 times after he was accused of supporting armed struggle.
Family of Sheikh Ashour said they want to be informed about his fate and be allowed to directly contact him.
The NIHR which has been ignoring the family messages since last July “interfered now in order to fake the facts and face the campaign which is demanding the reveal of his fate.”
The NIHR does not hide this, as it responded in its statement to what it said was “an invitation from outside organizations to participate in the disclosure of the fate of the inmate”, noting that these invitations do not reflect the reality of the matter. It also called for respecting the feelings of the inmate’s family, as such behaviors might alarm them.
The Institute ignored the concerns and messages of Sheikh Zuheir Ashour’s family for more than 6 months, but remembered it after the campaign was released, to announce through its Twitter account that it met him in prison and made sure that he is enjoying all his rights.
This is not the first time the Institute has practiced this role, as it has tried to claim that prisoners are receiving special care after protests demanding their release in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The family of Zuheir Ashour responded in a statement by saying that “the aim of this media institute is to distort the facts in order to confront the human rights campaign, which is demanding the reveal of his fate, and to cover up the real reasons behind the suspension of direct phone calls with the Sheikh.”
“Therefore, we have the right to question the institute’s claim that it has recently met the Sheikh, as well as its claim to take into account the feelings of the Sheikh’s family as it didn’t communicate with the Sheikh’s family before or after the publication of this statement,” they stressed.
“What was stated in the tweets of the NIHR cannot be trusted or considered by the Sheikh’s family as tweets put out by a neutral institute that cares for human rights,” the family said.
The family called for empowering credible local or foreign neutral human rights organizations to coordinate with the Sheikh’s family to visit him, determine his real condition, and reveal his fate, stressing the need for the release of Sheikh Zuheir Ashour and investigate the violations and torture he was subjected to.