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Egypt: Filmmaker jailed for directing song mocking Sisi dies in prison

Shady Habash had been in prison for more than two years in pre-trial detention
Shady Habash, 24, was a film director and cinematographer (Instagram/@ShadyHabash)

Egyptian film director and photographer Shady Habash died in Tora prison in the capital Cairo on Friday, according to human rights organisations. 

Habash, 24, had been in prison since March 2018 over directing a song mocking Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. 

Ramy Essam, who performed the song, said Habash would be buried on Friday afternoon in Cairo.

"Shady Habash has died. Shady was the kindest and bravest of people. He never hurt anyone. May God have mercy on him," Essam said, mourning his friend Habash in a Facebook post. 

Middle East Eye has not been able to verify independently the reason behind Habash's death, but a number of reports suggested that his death was avoidable. 

"Shadi got very sick in his prison cell, his [fellow] inmates cried for help for some time, but guards and officers had not intervened until his last breath," said human rights advocate Abdelrahman Ayyash

MEE reached out to the Egyptian government for comments but received no immediate response.  

Jailed for a song

Habash and his colleague Mustafa Gamal were arrested following the release of Balaha, a song that indirectly poked fun at Sisi, the former defence minister who came to power after a military coup ousted president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Essam, the singer who performed Balaha, is currently in exile in Sweden. The author of the song, Galal el-Beheiry, is also in jail. 

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"Balaha" is a derogatory nickname for Sisi, in reference to a character from a classic Egyptian movie known for being a compulsive liar.

"O Balaha, four years have finally passed in disgrace / With all your gang boys to that darkest jail, I wish you may rot in such a place," Essam sings.

A statement by Essam after Habash's arrest said that the director "doesn’t have anything to do with the content and message of the song".

Charges brought against Habash and Gamal include membership of a "terrorist group," spreading false news, abuse of social media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion and insulting the military.

They have both been in pre-trial detention pending investigations since their arrests.

Human Rights Watch has estimated that more than 60,000 political prisoners have been languishing in Egyptian jails since Sisi became president in 2014. 

The former army general has routinely jailed critics, including secular and Muslim Brotherhood politicians, journalists, and human rights defenders. Hundreds have died in custody through medical negligence or other poor detention conditions.