Brisbane man Hazem Hamouda is on his way back to Australia after languishing in one of Egypt’s most notorious prisons for more than a year without charge.
Lamisse Hamouda, Mr Hamouda’s eldest daughter, was emotional and fighting back tears as she fronted the media in Brisbane on Thursday, saying she and her family were relieved their father was on his way home.
“This has been the most harrowing and traumatic 15 months that has impacted every aspect of our lives,” she said.
“It has cost us financially, emotionally, psychologically and physically.”
Mr Hamouda, 55, was first detained on January 25 – also the anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian uprisings – after arriving at Cairo International Airport to join his children for a family holiday.
The Australian-Egyptian dual national was accused of sympathising with the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood for allegedly spreading false news on social media, but his children maintained their father had no association with the banned organisation.
He spent the next 433 days locked up in an overcrowded prison cell without charge.
And just when he was due to be released in February, Mr Hamouda “vanished” after failing to turn up at a police station.
Mr Hamouda’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson, from Doughty Street Chambers, told the media that during the time he went missing they believe he was taken into different forms of national security detention and interrogated.
“It was obviously an incredibly stressful and distressing time for Lamisse and the Hamouda family not knowing where he was,” she said.
Ms Robinson said they made an urgent appeal to the United Nations over Mr Hamouda’s disappearance and want the Australian government to raise the case with the Human Rights Council, arguing his detention was a “crime against humanity”.
Mr Hamouda is entitled to relief and compensation from the Egyptian government for the time he spent in prison, she said.
Although Mr Hamouda’s lawyers secured his release more than three weeks ago, his departure from Egypt had been prevented by Egyptian authorities.
However overnight Mr Hamouda was finally allowed to leave Egypt and was accompanied through Cairo’s airport by Australian ambassador to Egypt Glenn Miles.
‘Now we would like to quietly heal and move on’
Ms Hamouda, who campaigned for her father’s release over the past year, said the fight the family put up was a testament to how much they loved their father.
“Dad has always been a family man. He can be intense and opinionated, but most of all he is a genuine softy and big-hearted father,” she said.
“Our family’s dedication to the fight to free our dad and bring him home is evidence of the strength, love and determination we saw reflected in our parents.
“My siblings and I can’t wait to get one of Dad’s famous bear hugs.
“We are all a combination of relieved, elated and exhausted. So we respectfully ask for space and privacy when he returns.
“Our trauma has had enough time under the spotlight and now we would like to quietly heal and move on.”
Ms Lamouda praised the pro-bono legal team at Doughty Street Chambers for their work securing their father’s release.
She also thanked journalist Peter Greste for advocating for her family, adding in a separate statement the Australian government’s support was critical to her father’s return.
In a joint statement, barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Ms Robinson said: “This marks the end to what has been a horrific 433-day ordeal for the Hamouda family – a family holiday which became a living nightmare.”
“Throughout that time, Hazem and his family have tirelessly fought for his freedom and for his safe return home to Brisbane,” they said.
“It is a testament to their dedication that Hazem is now safely away from Egypt.
“However, we must remember that there are many more men and women still imprisoned in Egypt or banned from leaving Egypt based on spurious charges and often simply for peacefully expressing their opinions of President [Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi’s regime.”
‘We’ve been pushing for a long time’
Greste, who also spent more than a year in Egypt’s Tora Prison, told the ABC he was “overjoyed” for Mr Hamouda’s family.
“It’s one of those things we’ve been pushing for for a long time,” he said.
“I’ve been supporting the family the best I can, [but] obviously they’re the ones who deserve all of the praise or the congratulations.”
Greste believed it was likely a combination of factors – including media coverage, family and diplomatic support and Mr Hamouda’s lawyers – that helped secure Mr Hamouda’s release.
More than 20,000 people had signed an online petition to bring Mr Hamouda home.
“The system is so opaque that we will never really know what thing finally tipped it in Hazem’s favour,” he said.
“And in truth it might not be any one thing, just a collective weight of all of the effort that people put into it, [people] who were campaigning for Hazem’s release.”
Mr Hamouda’s return follows the release of Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, a key figure in the Arab Spring movement, last week.
Abdel Fattah was jailed alongside Greste in November 2013 and initially sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment until a retrial reduced this to five years, for organising an illegal protest and assaulting a police officer.
Additional reporting by Talissa Signato and Lexy Hamilton-Smith