Human rights groups said on Monday that collective punishment is taking place at Egypt’s Badr prison complex, as they warned of “numerous suicide attempts and hunger strikes among detainees”.
Thirty-eight Egyptian and international organisations have written to express their “deepest concern” and alarm at the “nature and scale of abuses taking place”.
The groups said they had not been able to corroborate reports of abuse and suicide attempts because of the lack of transparency from Egyptian authorities.
They called for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to be given unrestricted access to prisons in Egypt and for Egypt’s international allies and the United Nations to demand transparency in the country’s prison system.
Since the transfer of prisoners into Badr began in June 2022, “at least four deaths have been reported”, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), one of the letter’s signatories, said.
“In at least three of these cases, authorities have failed to respond to calls for medical assistance,” CIHRS, which published the letter, said.
Other forms of abuse “that amount to torture” have been documented by the rights organisations.
These include “maintaining bright lights in cells 24 hours a day” and “chaining prisoners to the walls of their cells without food or water for days at a time”.
Prisoners, who are monitored for 24 hours a day, have reported receiving electric shocks if they request improved conditions, CIHRS said.
In October 2022, Omar Mohamed Ali, a prisoner, was reportedly subjected to sexual harassment by prison security personnel after being transferred to Badr prison.
Sisi’s prison building
On 11 September 2021, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced the launch of a National Human Rights Strategy that included plans to modernise prisons.
Soon afterwards, authorities opened two large prison complexes, Badr and Wadi el-Natrun, and a year later they started to relocate political prisoners to the new facilities.
Since becoming president in 2014, Sisi has built at least 28 new prisons, more than a third of Egypt’s total number, which is now estimated to be 81.
Sisi promoted the new prison facilities as a model in human rights compliance, but rights groups have criticised them for falling short of international standards.
The Badr prison complex, located 70km northeast of Cairo, opened in December 2021. It is officially named the Badr Correctional and Rehabilitation Center.
It includes three prisons, including Badr 3, where many high-profile political prisoners have been held after being transferred from the notorious Tora Prison complex in mid-2022.