Egyptian prison conditions push political detainees to suicide

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Blogger and political activist Mohamed Ibrahim, known as Mohammed Oxygen, attempted suicide inside his prison cell in Tora 2 high-security prison, after he was subjected to serious violations of his basic rights.

This is not the first time that a political prisoner has committed suicide or attempted suicide, either out of desperation from being released from prison or distressed by the extremely difficult conditions he is experiencing, amid the authorities’ gross neglect of such facts.

The story of the young Mohamed Oxygen is a typical story of the abuse that human rights defenders suffer in Egypt. The young blogger was arrested for the first time in April 2018, on charges of “joining a group established in violation of the provisions of the law and spreading false news about the political and economic conditions in the country.”

The Public Prosecution held him in pretrial detention after he was included in Case No. 621 of 2018 Supreme State Security. Mohammed was imprisoned for one year and three months and was released in July 2019 with the precautionary measure that he must spend two hours at a police station twice a week answering questions and reporting his activities.

The young blogger was charged with the same charges again and accused of “participating in a terrorist group in achieving its goals and spreading false news and statements.” He was imprisoned in connection with Case No. 1356 of 2019 Supreme State Security. Mohamed was imprisoned for a year and two months, before the Cairo Criminal Court decided in November 2020 to release him as a precautionary measure, but the security services did not implement the court’s decision and included Oxygen in a new case to continue his imprisonment.

The young blogger was charged with the usual set of accusations, which include “joining a terrorist group and spreading false news and statements.” The guard is in the possession of the security services and with the knowledge of the Public Prosecution. No sooner had Oxygen been released from prison, the police re-arrested him in September 2019 while he was serving the precautionary measures in the Basateen Police Department, as part of the fierce arrest campaign that had been launched during that period against the background of the sudden demonstrations that came out to demand the departure of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

Mohamed was imprisoned for a year and two months, before the Cairo Criminal Court decided in November 2020 to release him as a precautionary measure, but the security services did not implement the court’s decision and included Oxygen in a new case in order to continue his imprisonment. The young blogger was charged with the usual set of accusations, which include “joining a terrorist group and spreading false news and statements.” The guard is in the possession of the security services and with the knowledge of the Public Prosecution.

During his imprisonment, Mohammed was subjected to serious violations. Since February 2020, the administration of the high-security Tora 2 Prison has deprived his family of visiting him, a ban that lasted for 15 months and is continuing until now, while the prison administration refuses to deposit money for him to spend. The Arab Network confirmed that the harsh treatment of its client in prison is an anomaly against justice and its continuous attempts so far to obtain a permit from the Supreme State Security Prosecution to enable its lawyers to visit Oxygen have been unsuccessful.

All this imprisonment, abuse and arbitrary measures drove the young blogger to a state of extreme despair that led him to commit suicide, a few days before the Eid Al-Adha holiday, before his cellmates called for help, which led to his transfer to the hospital, where he recovered. The Arab Network warned of the possibility of the incident recurring if the abuse continued.

Oxygen is not the first

Muhammad Oxygen was not the first political prisoner to attempt suicide or commit suicide inside prison, many preceded him and many of them were young. In May 2020, young director Shadi Habash (24 years) died inside prison after it was suspected that he attempted suicide, after he swallowed disinfectant used to prevent the emerging coronavirus, amid neglect by the prison administration, which failed to transfer him to the hospital.

Shadi was arrested in March 2018, after participating in the production of a satirical political song criticising President Sisi and questioning the feasibility of his policies and economic projects. Shadi was accused of “joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, misusing social media, contempt of religion, and insulting the military establishment,” and remained imprisoned until his death.

Khaled Hassan, 45, an Egyptian-American, was arrested in January 2018 while he was in Egypt. He was forcibly disappeared for four months and then appeared before the prosecution, which accused him of joining Sinai Province, the group affiliated with ISIS. He complained that he was tortured and raped during his imprisonment, and the authorities did not conduct an independent investigation into the matter. In July 2019, Hassan attempted suicide, by cutting his wrist artery and taking large amounts of high blood pressure pills, days after prison authorities refused to allow his brother from the United States to visit him, which led him to despair and frustration that he would not see his sons and daughters, according to his family.

In May 2019, prisoner Osama Murad, who has been imprisoned since 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in prison in a politicised case, attempted suicide by slitting his neck in a circular motion from right to left, causing a long incision in his larynx and trachea. He lost consciousness and was taken to hospital in a serious condition. Osama’s family confirmed that he was not suffering from any psychological crisis or suicidal tendencies before his arrest, but the physical and psychological abuse he was subjected to pushed him to the brink of psychological collapse, as he was subjected to serious violations in Minya Prison, after which he began to show symptoms of mental illness and suffered severe depression. He then suffered a state of psychological collapse and tried to injure himself, which ended in a suicide attempt.