‘Utterly deplorable’: Egypt’s ‘abusive’ prisons denounced

Rights group says thousands held for years in overcrowded prisons with abysmal conditions; given unhealthy food.

Prison watch towers
The UN estimates about 114,000 people are jailed in Egypt's appalling prisons [File: Khaled Desouki/AFP]

Amnesty International decried Egyptian prison conditions on Monday, 10 years after the Arab Spring revolution began in the country.

Thousands continue to be held for months or years under often inhumane conditions in overcrowded prisons, according to a report published by the human rights watchdog.

Prisoners are kept in dark, poorly ventilated cells with little or no fresh air and unsanitary conditions with little access to water and toilets and receive unhealthy food, it said.

Inadequate healthcare makes prisoners suffer unnecessarily and in some cases may have resulted in death, Amnesty alleged.

Contact with relatives is greatly reduced or completely denied, and there is no uniform strategy in the fight against the coronavirus in prisons, the report noted.

“Prison officials show utter disregard for the lives and wellbeing of prisoners crammed into the country’s overcrowded prisons and largely ignore their health needs,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director, in a statement.

“It is deplorable that the Egyptian authorities are seeking to intimidate and torment human rights defenders, politicians, activists and other actual or perceived opponents by denying them healthcare. When the denial causes severe pain or suffering and is a deliberate act for the purpose of punishment, it constitutes torture.”

Amnesty documented the detention experiences of 67 individuals, 10 of whom died in custody and two shortly after their release in 2019 or 2020.

Carried out primarily between February 2020 and November 2020, the research focused on 16 prisons.

“There is evidence that prison authorities – in some cases citing instructions from the National Security Agency (NSA) – target certain prisoners to punish them for their perceived opposition to or criticism of the government,” Luther said.

Reprisals included being held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement in abusive conditions for more than 20 hours a day.

The UN estimates that 114,000 people are currently held in prisons in Egypt.

The report said security officials continue to deny “prisoner of conscience” Zyad el-Elaimy, a former parliamentarian and one of the leading figures in January 25, 2011 protests, from receiving crucial medical attention for his health issues.

Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein is one of those who remains in prison in Egypt. Hussein was arrested in December 2016 and has spent more than four years in prison under arbitrary detention by Egyptian authorities. No formal charges have been announced and he has not received a trial.

Amnesty said it communicated its findings to Egyptian authorities in December 2020 but received no response.

The Egyptian government has rejected reports of bad prison conditions and accusations that torture occurs. The state news site Al-Ahram has referred to what it called “negative rumours”.

Last week, the interior ministry released a video from the notorious Torah prison in Cairo showing inmates being treated with the latest medical standards or reading, painting and baking.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies