Egypt: No cover-up into death of poet Shaimaa el-Sabbagh

London, 13 February 2015

Egypt: No cover-up into death of poet Shaimaa el-Sabbagh shot during anniversary of 2011 protests

The killing of poet Shaimaa el-Sabbagh as she walked in a peaceful procession on 24 January 2015, must be fully and promptly investigated, PEN International said today.  The global writers’ organisation which promotes literature and protects freedom of expression also called for a lifting of the ban on media from reporting on the death of the 31-year-old and the on-going investigation into it, imposed by the Egyptian authorities on Thursday.

‘The Egyptian people deserve to know the truth about the killing of Shaimaa el-Sabbagh, at a time when the country is so deeply riven by opposing views. There must be no cover up of any official responsibility for her death.’ said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

‘We call for complete transparency. The media ban must be lifted immediately. The authorities have an obligation to investigate her death and to bring anyone responsible to justice, no matter what their official position.

Shaimaa el-Sabbagh, from Alexandria, was killed after she was shot at close range with bird-shot (often used by Egyptian security forces) as she walked in the procession to lay flowers marking the fourth anniversary of the start of protests which saw the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo. Her last moments were captured on video, which has been widely circulated on the internet and which clearly show police wielding weapons of the type which killed her.

The prominent Hisham Mubarak Law Center said in a Facebook post that five of el-Sabbagh’s fellow protesters who had given investigators their account of the incident were charged with assaulting police and taking part in an illegal demonstration.

Shaimaa el-Sabbagh leaves behind a five-year-old son.

Shaimaa’s poems are written in the vernacular. They are written without rhyme or rhythm. This renders her as one of a small group of formal revolutionary vernacular poets. A unique position given that the vernacular lends itself to overt forms of word play and rhyme/rhythm. When Shaimaa was killed, poetry lost an authentic, humane, generous and capable voice.

—Maged Zaher, translator Seattle, Washington February 4th, 2015

Some of her poetry, which he translated into English, may be read here.