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Eight Egyptian rights orgs urge ‘real reform’ to prisons

Eight prominent Egyptian human rights organisations called on the Egyptian authorities to enact real reform at prisons and detention centres, rather than merely adopting a law that they described as a “farce…intended to provide an illusion of reform.”

“The undersigned human rights organizations consider these amendments to prison nomenclature as nothing but frivolous formalities…evocative of the National Human Rights Strategy declared by the president….in September 2021,” the eight groups said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, a new law was passed by the Egyptian parliament, relabeling prisons into “correctional facilities” and prisoners into “inmates,” while wardens are now described as “directors.”

“This legislation is useless. It’s completely a farce. It doesn’t address the least of the concerns that rights groups flagged for years regarding the flaws of the legal framework governing detentions and prisons,” said Amr Magi, a researcher in the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.

“Some of these issues include the fact that medical doctors at prisons have no right to make life or death decisions about prisoners under their care unless they take orders from police officers first,” the HRW researcher, an Egyptian based in Germany, told The New Arab.

“Inhumane conditions at Egyptian prisons and detention centres have been documented for decades. But the situation has been deteriorating under Sisi, becoming more inhumane and abusive,” he added.

“If we follow the Nelson Mandela Rules, the United Nations standards for the treatment of prisoners, we will find them almost all violated.”

The rights organisations agree with Magdi’s assessment, further providing evidence of maltreatment in Egyptian prisons.

Among the examples highlighted is how the Tora prison administration, habitually violated the rights of prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah since the beginning of his detention years ago. Abdel Fattah and his lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer were assaulted upon their arrival in prison in 2019 and have since been subjected to inhumane treatment and dire conditions.

Last September, Abdel-Fattah, who is serving five years in prison over accusations of “spreading false news”, among other charges, told the judge that he may commit suicide unless his conditions in the infamous prison were to be improved. Abdel-Fattah urged the judge to transfer him to another jail.

Meanwhile, human rights defender Hoda Abdelmoneim is facing trial before an emergency state security court on charges due to her activism regarding human rights. She suffers from serious medical conditions but is denied the right to be transferred to a hospital outside the prison.

Another case is activist Ahmed Maher (nicknamed “Rigo”) who had been reportedly assaulted this month while under the supervision of the Tora Prison administration, in retaliation for his and other prisoners’ hunger strikes in protest to their prolonged years of arbitrary detention without trial.

Former presidential candidate and head of an opposition party Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh was also reportedly subjected to harsh conditions by being placed in solitary confinement, as well as medical negligence since the prison authorities ignored his chronic conditions, some of which require surgical intervention.

“While investigating these cases, we found that they lack access to proper medical care. Neither were they examined by specialists to handle their cases, which led to many deaths or the acceleration of their demise…and that includes, I think, late president [Mohamed] Morsi,” Magdi said, on his part.

Earlier in January, a documentary produced by Al-Araby TV, a sister company of The New Arab, unveiled that hundreds, if not thousands, of political prisoners and detainees held at Egypt’s notorious Al-Aqrab prison, were subjected to years of maltreatment and inhumane conditions.

The film, entitled, “Scorpion Prison in Egypt: the Cemetery of the Living”, revealed several cases of abuse, through interviews with the families of detainees.

“There are different types of confinement: official prisons, cells at police stations, and detention centres. But the unofficial detention centres at national security buildings are where the abuses and severe and brutal physical torture take place [usually following enforced disappearance],” the HRW researcher elaborated.

“The key problem is that the investigators of these cases are often the police officers who undertook these offences. There must be an independent entity that investigates these violations, such as the justice ministry or the national human rights council,” he recommended.

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