The families of at least 18 political prisoners being detained in Egypt have been denied their visitation rights over the last 10 days.
On February 3, the family of blogger Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim, who is being held in remand detention along with a wide array of defendants in Case 621/2018, was prohibited from their weekly visit.
His brother, Khaled, told Mada Masr that he, along with his mother and sister, was prevented from visiting Islam and told by prison authorities that this was a result of direct instructions from the National Security Agency (NSA). Other inmates were allowed to see their relatives that day, Khaled added.
Oxygen’s case was the first of what would become a trend throughout the rest of the week.
Mada Masr has been able to confirm that at least 17 other political prisoners were denied visitation rights last week, with authorities also refusing to accept or not delivering what are often vital food and medical supplies in Egypt’s overcrowded prisons. The list encompasses Ahmed Douma, Alaa Abd El Fattah, Raed Salama, Yehia al-Qazzaz, Abdel Fattah al-Banna, Masoum Marzouq, Sameh Seoudi, Islam Khalil, Hazem Abdel Azim, Hamdy al-Fakharany, Mohamed al-Qassas, Sayed Mushagheb, Ahmed Abu Alam, Shady al-Ghazaly Harb, Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh, Mohamed Monib and Moataz Wadnan.
A few of the prisoners that have been affected by this ban — April 6 Youth Movement founder Douma, Strong Egypt Party deputy head Qassas, and Ultras White Knights member Mushagheb — are being kept in solitary confinement, which is only broken by visitations.
Authorities have not given an official reason for the decision to deny family visits. However, many of the lawyers and families Mada Masr has spoken to were told by prison authorities that the decision had come from the NSA, with one officer telling Noor Khalil, the brother of Islam Khalil, that the security body had disseminated instructions to ban visits for “certain people,” while allowing other political prisoners to receive visitors.
The decision contravenes visitation rights enshrined in the Penal Code, whereby individuals being held in remand detention in Egypt have the right to receive visitors once a week, while those who have been sentenced to serve time in prison are entitled to bi-monthly visits.
In the face of the prison authorities’ refusal to grant visits, family members took to social media to publicize the issue throughout the week. Abd El Fattah’s relatives staged a sit-in in front of Tora Prison on the fifth day of being denied visits despite the family being in possession of a visitation permit from the Public Prosecution, saying that they would not leave until they were allowed to see him.
On Sunday, some of this pressure yielded results, when the families of Strong Egypt Party head Abouel Fotouh and Abd El Fattah were finally granted permission to see them.
Abd El Fattah’s visit, however, was brief and the conditions were exceptional: His mother and sister were allowed to see Abd El Fattah in a maximum security ward, where he had been transferred specifically for the visit, according to his aunt, Ahdaf Soueif. The visit took place via handsets through a glass panel in a small room and was overseen by several security personnel.
And on Monday, Douma’s relatives, as well as those of economist Salama, university professor Banna, former ambassador Marzouq and March 9 Movement member Qazzaz — who are being held in remand detention in Tora Prison and tried in Case 1305/2018 after being arrested during the Eid al-Adha holiday in August 2018 — were permitted by prison authorities to visit their detained family members.
Ahmed Abdel Latif, a lawyer for the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said that his client Sameh Seoudi, who is also being tried in the same case, was prevented from visits by his family last week, along with the rest of his co-defendants.
Shortly before Douma — who was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison and handed a LE6 million fine for charges that stem from 2011, when protesters clashed with military forces violently dispersing a demonstration in front of the Cabinet building — was granted visitation rights on Monday, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression issued a statement announcing that it had filed a complaint with the Public Prosecution against the Interior Ministry deputy in charge of prisons and the warden of Tora Prison for illegally denying Douma his right to visitations and communication.
Other complaints have also been filed to challenge the decision to deny prisoners’ visits, including those submitted by lawyer Abdel Rahman Haridy on behalf of his clients Abouel Fotouh, Qassas and activist Shady al-Ghazaly Harb, who was issued a 45-day detention order on Sunday pending investigations into Case 621/2018.
Another defendant in the same case, lawyer Ahmed Sabry Abu Alam, has also been denied visitation rights. Haridy told Mada Masr that other detainees who had been affected by the visitation ban include Mushagheb, former Member of Parliament Fakharany and journalist Wadnan.
The ban also extended to political activist Hazem Abdel Azim and former Member of Parliament Mohamed Moneib.
On Sunday, Moneib’s family attempted to visit him but were told by prison authorities that they would not be allowed to because a visit had already made by Sameh Ashour, the head of the Lawyers Syndicate, according to lawyer and family member Mahienour el-Massry, despite the fact that exceptional visits are limited to first-degree relatives.