Amnesty International: Dozens of deaths in Egypt’s prisons due to medical negligence

Amnesty international has issued a report entitled, “Die or burn: The negligence and denial of health care in Egypt’s prisons,” to shed light on the suffering of prisoners in Egypt and the bad conditions they are kept in. Amnesty said it knew that officials in Egyptian prisons subjected prisoners in 16 prisons to conditions that do not meet international standards, and that badly affected their physical and mental health, even their lives in some cases.

Testimonies collected by Amnesty International indicated the cruel and inhuman conditions, including overcrowdedness, lack of beds, bad sanitation, lack of cleanliness, shortage of food, poor ventilation, and the denial of exercise. The prison administration intentionally neglects providing the detainees with sufficient food, beds, coverings, clothes, detergents and items for personal hygiene including health pads for the female detainees.

The poor detainees suffer more because of the inability of their families to send them money for their basic expenses. They also subject the political detainees intentionally to bad, cruel, inhuman conditions, including solitary confinement for long periods and denying them of basic needs, even if such things are sent from their families. A lot of cells and wards in Egypt’s prisons are dirty and filled with insects. Moreover, they lack sources of clean water and sanitation. The detainees have to share personal items such as toothbrushes, towels and razors, which leads to the spread of infections. Amnesty interviewed a couple of former detainees who pointed to problems in lighting and ventilation in cells.

Amnesty’s report addressed the prison’s treatment of the COVID-19 outbreak. There was no systemic confrontation in the prisons to control the outbreak. Generally, the administrations were not interested in monitoring and testing the suspected cases or isolating them. Moreover, the administrations hide information about the outbreak of infections among the detainees. The previously indicated problems in hygiene made it impossible to implement social distancing and other infection control measures.

In some prisons, suspected cases were isolated in solitary cells without receiving treatment. In others, they were left with their colleagues in their cells which led to the spread of the infection. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Egyptian authorities have gone on transferring the detainees between prisons, courts and police stations, without protective equipment or distancing. New detainees were sent to prisons without being tested or isolated. Contraband messages from detainees revealed that some detainees were punished for complaining that guards do not wear face masks.

In July 2020, the well-known journalist Mohamed Mounir died of COVID-19 just 10 days after his release from Tora Investigations Prison. Mounir’s daughter said that he was detained in mid-June, and he was suffering from a fever when he was released, which the doctor confirmed was caused by COVID-19. Over the past five years, hundreds of people died whilst in detention in Egypt’s prisons. However, the Egyptian authorities refuse disclosure of any information about the number of detainees or deaths. They also refuse any form of monitoring or reporting on conditions inside prisons.

Amnesty International recorded seven deaths of detainees due to medical negligence in Egypt’s prisons, including the former President Mohamed Morsi, the prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam Erian, Amr Abu Khalil, the brother of a prominent Egyptian opposition politician. Amnesty International recorded two incidents of political detainees who died in solitary confinement even after they knocked on the doors and called for help. The first was the case of Hossam Hamed, who was hit by the guards, and the second was of a detainee called Mohamed, who told guards that he suffers difficulty breathing and he cannot tolerate poor ventilation, but his complaint was not responded to. Early in 2020, Moustafa Kassem, a political detainee who holds US nationality, died in prison after a prolonged hunger strike protesting the bad conditions in prison. All these cases passed without investigations or statements about the circumstances of his death.