Basel Abdullah

On 17 June it was suddenly announced that the former President Mohamed Morsi died within his court session after a heart attack resulted in his immediate death. Actually it wasn’t a surprise; over his years in custody he suffered a systematic and slow death due to the conditions of his detention and medical neglect.

On 3 July 2013, President Morsi was arrested in the Republican Guard Headquarters within hours of a decision to oust him by the military. After two days he was transferred to another place and forcibly disappeared for four months away from his family and the entire world until he appeared on 4 November of the same year at his first court session in the Police Academy.

Over the six years from his first day in prison to the announcement of his death he was held in incommunicado detention in Tora Agricultural Prison inside the Tora Complex Prison, in cruel detention conditions that he always talked about during his trial sessions. The last of his complaints was minutes before his last breath when he told the court bench that he faced murder by the ruling regime, that his medical condition was worsening and that he suffered fainting spells whilst in custody yet prison authorities did not allow him to go to hospital, or release him on health grounds or to see his family.

Morsi was suffering from chronic diabetes that developed critical complications as a result of his poor detention conditions and the denial of medical treatment that resulted in a severe visual impairment in his left eye and blisters in his mouth and on his teeth. He also repeatedly fell into diabetic comas, in addition to developing severe amyloidosis in the backbone and the cervical vertebrae as a result of being forced to sleep on the ground in his prison cell, according to his lawyer.

Almost one year ago, on 9 July 2018, a group of five human rights organisations including the Cairo Institute For Human Rights Studies, El Nadim Center, Freedom Initiative, Committee for Justice and Adalah for Rights and Freedoms released a statement about Morsi’s medical condition that expressed their serious concerns about what they described as the systematic punishment of the former President where his rights to a fair trial, fair legal procedures and humane treatment were denied. The organisations also demanded that acts of revenge amounting to torture and slow death stop.

After Morsi’s death, Human Rights Watch requested an investigation into the Egyptian authorities through the United Nations Human Rights Council on the severe violations of human rights in Egypt that includes the widespread mistreatment in prisons that the former President Mohamed Morsi underwent. The organisation described the treatment that Morsi received during his time in custody as systematic torture under the United Nations Convention against Torture. His slow and systematic death also violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nation’s principles. The organisation added that government statements that indicated Morsi received proper treatment were false allegations.

While the government’s statements indicated that Morsi received the required medical care and that his human rights were respected in custody, his family confirmed that they were only allowed to visit him twice during the time he was imprisoned. He was also deprived of clothes, books, medication and food. On 8 August 2015 he submitted a petition to court demanding a doctor specialised in diabetes examine him and diagnose his medical situation, but over his years inside the doctor never came. This treatment continued until his last moments. He died after fainting inside his cage in court surrounded by the screams of his comrades for around half hour without any reaction from guards or the medical staff in the court.

The late President had previously expressed to his family that he felt his life was at risk in the prison. He also expressed fears to the court in November and requested medical treatment which he would fund, but it was denied by the court and the regime. He suffered loss of vision in his left eye and liver failure. Until his last moments he complained of illness and neglect.  

Several human rights activists have indicated that what happened to Morsi is a punitive measure used widely in Egyptian prisons including medical neglect, punishment, mistreatment and the deprivation of human rights that also caused the death of the previous supreme guide Mohammed Mahdi Akef who died at the end of 2017. There are hundreds of political detainees suffering from the same conditions including Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Essam Sultan and many others.  

Many people inside and outside Egypt have compared the conditions of Morsi’s detention and the conditions of Mubarak’s detention as the latter spent most of his detention period in the International Medical Centre or in military hospitals surrounded by his family, lawyers and supporters who he received constantly. This motivated the representative of the British House of Commons Crispin Blunt to submit a request to the House that a delegation visit Morsi in custody, which was the same request submitted by the House of Commons in March 2017. The Egyptian authorities rejected this request and many others.

All of this drove Morsi advocates and human rights activists inside and outside Egypt to consider his death a systematic assassination which occurred over his time in prison. This punishment started from the moment of his arrest and didn’t stop even after his death as authorities limited his burial to a funeral prayer led by his two sons at al-Wafaa wa al-Amal cemetery in Cairo, contrary to his will to be buried in his family graveyard in al-Sharqia Governorate.