July 22, 2013

Sinai: In the Realm of Death

In the current weekly print supplement Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, published in the German leading newspaper SZ, a horrific story about the torture of kidnapped Africans in Egypt's Sinai is spreading across 24 pages. Called "In the Realm of Death", it is a harrowing account of an 18-day trip to hell by the award winning journalist Michael Obert and Magnum photographer Moises Saman. As the report is only published in German but contains vital information especially for Egyptian readers and government authorities, I am recounting their trip here and added translations of vital passages that are chilling to read. Wherever quotation marks are set, the passage is a direct translation of the original report.

If anyone wonders if the horrid accounts of torture practices mentioned here are factual or not just products of over imagination, I can assure you I have read and heard numerous reports to this for a long time now that are as brutal as these. A human rights organisation in Israel alone has collected testimonies from over 1,300 Africans who barely survived the torture camps in the Sinai. Their stories tell of unspeakable crimes against humans and they carry the – well documented – horrific scars and injuries to go with it. The brutalities reported here in this report sadly are factual. We have to face it, whether we like it or not.

It is my wish that more people are willing to be aware of the terrible crimes against humans that are ongoing day by day by day in the Sinai desert. And that we manage to pressure the interim Egyptian government to undertake steps to put an end to one of the biggest atrocities of our times.

I urge anyone who is fluent in German to read it. It gives harrowing insights into the mindset of the torturers of Sinai, the Egyptian authorities who look away – and a world that does not care.



Up to July 26, 2013, you could find my very long, detailed recounting of the trip the two journalists took,with a number of translated quotes from the original German article here. The reaction to this blogpost was overwhelming and the many readers, the post had, were shocked to hear what is going on in the Sinai regarding the horrific torture of innocent human beings held hostage.

However, the publishers of the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin asked me to remove my post as their licensing department has purchased the rights for the translation to exclusive partners and they fear my post could interfere with this.

I have been assured that the article I find so important for English readers to read will be published in translation shortly in a big newspaper/mag, so it will then be possible for the English speaking audience to read the article in it's complete form.

As things stand, I have decided to oblige with their request and remove my recounting of the journey on this blog so as not to interfere with the said republishing process. I am very much interested that the article in translation finds it's way in whole into the English speaking public sphere.

My post was intended to inform and raise awareness of the horrors that happen daily in the Sinai. In this I was agreed with the author, who wanted nothing as much as to stir the world in order for it to wake up and make an effort to finally put an end to these unbelievable atrocities that have cost thousands of African lives in the last years.

(Read my article in the Daily News Egypt on this, and check this blog for further posts on the subject.)

Three quotes from the original article I would like you to read and know.

Of those hostages, who after horrible torture manage to come free, many are arrested by the Egyptian authorities, if they are badly injured, handcuffed to hospital beds, or otherwise thrown into jail. Michael Obert writes on this:

» Because, instead of going after the kidnappers and torturers, the Egyptian authorities go after the victims. «

That is – in addition to the original torture by the kidnappers – a serious crime and, as the representative for the UNHCR in Cairo puts it rightly, "a violation of the Geneva Convention".

The Bedouin guide, who led the journalists to the place were the torture chambers are hidden in houses of Bedouin human traffickers, showed himself outraged:

» "If only one European is abducted somewhere in the Middle East, then the whole world cries out, the media goes crazy and everything is done to rescue the hostage – but with thousands of Africans the world looks away and lets them rot to die."«

And one of the reasons behind this, Michael Obert points out:

» Because the world can't see these people and hardly anyone knows their stories, the kidnappers can torture them unhindered. «

Let us raise awareness where we can so the world starts to 'see' these people who suffer such incredible pain in the darkness of windowless rooms in torture chambers in the Sinai.

It is up to us to make it impossible for the kidnappers to torture them 'unhindered'. It is up to us and up to how much effort we make to put a stop to this, that decides the fate and often decides over the lives of those who fell victim to human trafficking in Sinai.

Theses horrors must come to an end. Once and for all.


  1. Hi Jonathan... Absolutely horrific story, but I have to thank you for bringing it to us in English.

    Too distraught to comment further on the subject matter, but I have thought of a possible way to help Selomon.

    I interviewed a South African called Richard van As a couple of months ago. In brief - he's developed a customisable mechanical hand built from 3D printed parts. Go to http://robohand.net/ for more info.

    Do check it out & contact Richard (he's a great guy!) I'm thinking - if such a hand would be suitable for Selomon - that it would be a much cheaper option than surgery & together with the German journalists we should be able to raise some money for this on a crowd-funding site?

    Let me know what you think...

    1. Thanks much for info, Theresa. I will pass this on to the author of the article and hope it can be of help to Selomon. Interesting idea.

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