Mahienour al-Massry's release: Scenes from the first night

“Your wishes, Mahienour?” were Judge Sherif Hafez’s first words to leftist activist Mahienour al-Massry in the deliberation room before he ruled to suspend her six-month prison sentence.

Firm and confident, Massry replied, “The release of the thousands of detainees from prison.”

Her answer wasn’t what the judge expected, and it prompted him to offer some advice. Before he signed his decision, Hafez said, “Express your opinion however you want, peacefully and without any trouble.”

“Who is the one who creates trouble?” she responded. “Those who protest, or those who arrest them?”

“They disperse protests all around the world,” the judge responded, to which defense lawyer Haytham Mohamadeen interjected, “And do they kill them, too?”

The decision to suspend the sentence was not predictable — not for the judge, who is known for his harshness and who expressed dismay when Massry and her supporters purportedly “defamed him on Facebook," nor for those familiar with the court.

The courtroom was filled with Massry’s supporters, friends and colleagues, as well as former inmates who had made her acquaintance during their time in prison.

“Suspending my sentence, which was already reduced, is no cause for happiness when I have friends in prison sentenced to two years and an LE50,000 fine in the same case,” Massry said following the verdict.

“The regime wants to release the prominent activists to improve its image, but others remain in prison,” she continued.

For hours, neither the lawyers nor Massry’s supporters knew the procedures for her release, before it was finally confirmed that she would be released from the Mansheya Police Station, thus depriving her of the opportunity to say goodbye to her friends in prison.

As soon as she was out, Massry’s warm welcome was interrupted by her chanting: “Freedom is in the hands of the people, not the military or the guards; down with military rule.”

Still dressed in her prison garb, Massry visited the mother of Loay al-Qahwagy, who was detained in the same case, before heading home.

“Happiness is not measured by the bar that that the regime set low by releasing the well-known activists. It is in insisting that the Protest Law be annulled and all detainees, known or unknown, be released,” she said.

Massry’s visit to Qahwagy’s mother was more practical than it was a show of solidarity. Their conversation revolved around the procedures needed to suspend the sentence of those in the same case: Qahwagy, Islam Hassanein, Omar Hazek and Nasser Aboul Hamd.

Preparations started immediately following the visit.

“We will immediately file requests to the court. Mahienour decided to be part of the defense team, and as soon as we retrieve her papers from the prison she will join the team,” says lawyer Mohamed Ramadan.

Massry says she doesn’t want people to be caught up in celebrating activists’ release, who, in her opinion, are much luckier than other tens of thousands of detainees people know nothing about. Instead, she wants people to use this energy to lobby for the annulment of the Protest Law and the release of those detained for violating it.

The activist remains steadfast in her hunger strike that she began in prison in solidarity with those still detained.   

Massry’s first night out was long, spent among her family and friends. The next morning, she started her day by posting some thoughts on her Facebook page.

“When I decided to attend my court session, it was to not only show that the Protest Law was unjust, but to show people that the regime isn’t only authoritarian — it doesn’t know what it is doing,” she wrote.

“I know some people will tell me to have shame and that they just released me, but that only confirms our theory that the whole thing is politicized and has nothing to do with the law or stability. Because they simply want us to be an accessory on the regime’s jacket, they release a few people as if it’s a democratic system, while thousands remain in jail.”

This article was originally published here.