There was tears of joy and relief on Tuesday morning as Egyptian South African scholar Shaykh Abdu Salaam Bassiouni was released from an Egyptian prison after being held captive for 485 days. It marks the end of a year and half long ordeal for the family, who lobbied South African authorities to negotiate his release. Speaking to VOC on Tuesday, his son Bilal said the family received a call from prison authorities at 11pm on Monday night that Shaykh Bassiouni would be freed. By 1am, he was finally released to his anxious family.
“We are grateful to Allah (swt) and to the South African Muslim community at large for all their support and prayers. The support for the Free Bassiouni campaign has been truly extraordinary. We also acknowledge the role of the SA government and embassies in Cairo for giving my father the support,” said an elated Bilal.
Bilal said the family’s main priority is to get his father urgent medical attention.
“I managed to speak to my father through Skype this morning and saw how fragile and frail he looks. The 485 days have taken its toll on my father’s health. We want to get him immediate medical care to ascertain the severity of his back injury.”
Shaykh Bassiouni is a respected member of the South African community and known for his widespread work among previously disadvantaged communities for the past 20 years. He has been a lecturer in Arabic at University of Johannesburg, South Africa and is the director and founder of the Al Tawheed Islamic Centre in Gauteng
The Lenasia resident was arrested in Egypt in December 2014 when he visited his home country for his daughter’s engagement. He was detained on suspicion of being a member of the banned Muslim brotherhood but was never charged.
Bilal was also arrested at the time, but held for 24 hours and then released by state security. Shaykh Bassiouni was then moved to the notorious Tora prison and kept without charge. At the time, he was informed that he would attend a pre-trial hearing to determine his charges.
The pre-trial hearing only took place last week where he was ordered to be immediately released. He was moved from Tora prison to the central police station in Cairo, then to another police station in his locality.
The family is currently split between South Africa and Egypt. Shaykh Bassiouni’s wife and eldest son have stayed in Egypt since December 2014 to oversee the case and give support to him. In South Africa, the remaining family members worked towards his release.
Asked as to the reasons why Shaykh Bassiouni was suddenly released, Bilal said the family was as “much in the dark now” as in December 2014 when he was first arrested. No charges were formally lodged against the scholar and his drawn out release is still a shock to the family, he added.
Bilal could not say whether the scholar would be returning back to South Africa soon as the family are still awaiting details surrounding procedures. VOC (Tasneem Adams)