There has been global interest in the cases of Al Jazeera’s detained journalists for months, with support inside Egypt itself building in recent weeks.
TV presenter Amr Adeeb said last week that ongoing incarcerations were wrong and were doing harm to Egypt’s image.
The signatories of the letter include actors, artists, TV presenters, authors and politicians. These include Dr. Amr Hamzawy, a university professor, former parliament member and newspaper columnist; Reem Majid, a talk show host on ON TV; Khalid Ali, a humanitarian activist, lawyer and former presidential candidate; and Mariam Naoum, a renowned screenwriter whose artwork has been shown in festivals like Venice Film Festival, Dubai Film Festival and Brussels Film Festival.
According to Egyptian media reports, the letter says of Elshamy: “He is a journalist on Al Jazeera and was arrested on 14 August 2013, while he was covering the dispersal of the Rab’aa sit-in. On 21 January 2014, he started a hunger strike in protest against his unlawful detention without any charges or evidence. His detention is being renewed continually; last time was on 3 May 2014 when he got another 45 days of detention.”
The letter is addressed to the National Council for Human Rights. “The council was founded by law, with the first article stating that it aims to enhance human rights, embed them, create awareness of them, and contributing to their practice. We demand this is applied to Abdullah Elshamy and Mohamed Sultan’s [another separate detainee] cases specifically. It is important the council visits them with an independent physician, and urges the authorities to free them immediately, moving them to a hospital until this happens. Two young men who have not been charged, one of them not even referred to court, are about to die in Egyptian prisons, and we hold you and ourselves as higher than standing by and watching this happen. If serious actions to save them are not to be made, we will do everything we can to escalate this and get them freed.”
Other signatories of the letter include poet Tamim AlBarghoothy; TV presenter Dina And ElRahman; actress Basma; lawyer and political activist Ziyad AlEleemy; screenwriter Azza Shalaby; journalist Naglaa Bedair, and writer and publisher Mohamed Hashem.
Separately, it has been reported in Egyptian media that humanitarian activist Dr. Aida Seif AlDawla and Dr. Layla Sowaif, a professor in the faculty of science in Cairo University, have announced they are on hunger strike in solidarity.
Al Jazeera spokesperson Osama Saeed commented: “We value each and every initiative supporting freedom for Abdullah and his right to proper medical care. The support Abdullah is getting from Egyptian society is noble, significant and is growing day-by-day. We reiterate our call to free Abdullah because journalism is not a crime.”
The Egyptian authorities have not provided access to Elshamy to verify reports he ended his hunger strike. His family and solicitor have expressed concern about his health and of what may have happened to him since he was placed in solitary confinement two weeks ago.
Four Al Jazeera journalists are being detained in Egypt in total. Al Jazeera English’s Peter Greste, Baher Mohammed and Mohammed Fahmy have been in captivity since 29 December 2013.