A report by the Egyptian Front for Human Rights said that the Egyptian prison system showed its complete inability to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, and its indifference to protecting the lives of detainees.
The report dealt with the conditions of detention and health care in six Egyptian prisons. It revealed that places of detention in Egypt in general are inhumane and poor to the extent that prisons are unable to deal with any health crisis, and even cause long-term health problems for detainees. Food is handed out in small quantities and is of poor quality to the extent that it may cause diseases. Drinking water is polluted and causes kidney disease, and many detainees are deprived of their right to exercise and exposure to sunlight.
The organisation said that among the few measures taken by the Ministry of Interior, under the pretext of protecting detainees from the virus, was to prevent them completely or almost completely from communicating with their families and lawyers. But the truth of the matter, according to the rights group, is that this was nothing but a means of violating prisoners’ right to communicate with the outside world, concealing the reality of the pandemic in prisons, and keeping prisoners in prolonged pretrial detention without real judicial review or effective legal representation.
The report stated that the prison system is unable to provide the right to health care for detainees, as there is no coherent system capable of responding to their medical needs in a reasonable time, or to emergencies. The report discussed the lack of emergency doctors, the complexity of transportation procedures to an external hospital, and the unavailability of many medical specialists.
It also pointed out that prison doctors are not civilians, but are affiliated with the Ministry of Interior, and their experience is limited, and most of them are unable to diagnose correctly. There is not enough medicine, and prison authorities make it difficult for families to bring medicine in during visits, said the organisation. The level of mental health care is very low, and detainees may even be deprived of their psychiatric medication. In addition to all this, prison doctors deal with detainees in an inhuman and degrading manner, amounting to beating and insulting patients.
According to the organisation, Egyptian prisons create an environment designed to intimidate detainees from seeking treatment, by punishing them for “feigning illness,” a charge against any patient suffering from health problems that the prison administration does not consider to be of a serious nature. Punishment for this, the report said, is sometimes beating and humiliation, or transfer to solitary confinement, or prevention of health care in the future. Medical negligence is a widespread phenomenon in all Egyptian prisons and sometimes leads to the death of detainees because of not responding quickly or due to complications from serious health conditions, according to the report.
The report also showed that prisons did not adopt a clear and transparent policy regarding the provision of coronavirus vaccines to detainees and did not adhere to the recommendations of the World Health Organisation regarding preventive measures in places of detention. Egypt’s prisons suffer from an unprecedented overcrowding and it has been impossible to implement social distancing measures.