Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

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Yara in the White Uniform

I find myself helpless, but to repeat the sentence most of her loved ones and colleagues used during the last 8 months: "I can't believe that Yara in prison". The Pan-African Woman Human Rights Defender and prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer Yara Sallam was detained while protesting the controversial “protest law” in Egypt, in June last year. "We used to send her the urgent calls for actions and ask her for help to campaign for WHRDs in detention in all over Africa and the Arab region. But now, do we have to campaign for her? How could we possibly do that? Should we copy her in the emails?" Those were the questions that popped up inside my head when I first read the news.

I met Yara in 2012, when I was working on a report about the situation of WHRDs in one of the neighboring African troubled state. I have just arrived from my home country to live in exile in Egypt. Her smile and welcoming voice and beauty gave me a sense of hope and trust. I was also coming out of detention. She said to me, "I am here for you, I will walk you through the process of this project, don't worry." She asked me about my needs to feel comfortable to proceed with my research, and started introducing me to many peoples and great contacts to help me do my work the best way possible; in short she made me feel at home.

When I see her photos in the campaigns for her release, I still get confused about the purpose of her picture with the hashtag #FreeYara. "Yara I know is one of the most free spirits I have ever met, she does not need to be freed by anyone." I think to myself. Then I wake up to the reality and realize that she is actually behind bars for months; that is why they call for her freedom. The legal system in Egypt refused to give her freedom to walk on streets again, at least for another two years. But my realization of this reality continued to conflict with the truth I believed, which is that Yara is free. She is free and will always be free in her mind and heart. Her positive energy escaped the prison's walls to inspire her colleague and friends to continue her work with more passion and determination.

Lately I came across a picture of Yara in the white uniform of the prison. I couldn't stop myself from thinking, "ooh she looks beautiful in white." She seemed tired but still smiling, and giving hope to others. The white uniform added a graceful aspect to her free spirit. White is the light, white is the new page for writers and a blank campus for painters. Yara in white is sending a message, that she is actually starting a new chapter of her courageous journey for human rights and justice. Therefore, her captors should think again; if their purpose was stopping Yara and her colleagues from speaking out or expressing their opinions, they are actually making a huge mistake. Those in prison are rising above their cells and standing tall, because they prefer to remain free inside prisons, than conform to the deadly silence outside it (#YaraIsFree).

The author is a WHRD from an African country, she prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons.