Though little is known about him, Major General Tarek Marzouk, the Assistant Minister of Interior for Prisons, is the man responsible for the worst human rights crisis in decades under the government of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Under the directives of Marzouk, dozens of political detainees have died in custody, others are victims of sexual assault, torture and enforced disappearances. Although violence and torture by the police in Egypt goes back to Nasser, Marzouk has maintained the policies of systematic repression and fatal torture, which has been described as a crime against humanity.
Marzouk, as the senior government official responsible for supervising Egyptian prisons, believes that what is being circulated about torture, extrajudicial killings and other well-documented, widespread and systematic violations of human rights, is just a malicious campaign carried out by enemies aiming to tarnish Egypt’s image. In other words, he totally denies all conditions that have long plagued Egypt’s prisons. An April 2021 article in Masrawy quoted Marzouk as saying, “what is rumoured abroad about the mechanism by which the prison sector is run is pure lies and slander.”
Under Marzouk’s command, there have been massive violations in Egyptian prisons. To name a few, in March 2021, a human rights platform reported that Qanater women’s prison managers had denied detainees food and essential items from entering the prison. This ban included food, personal hygiene products, winter clothes and blankets.
The prison administration forced families to deposit large sums of money for their daughters so that they can buy food and supplies from the prison canteen, though it is of a very poor quality and at prices that are three times the prices outside the prison. According to We Record, the new restriction policy came according to orders from Major General Tarek Marzouk, Assistant Minister of Interior for the Prisons Sector.
Furthermore, Marzouk stressed repeatedly that there was no COVID-19 in prisons, contrary to what was rumoured that there was an outbreak among prisoners. However, human right organisations have attributed several recent prison deaths at least partially to COVID infections.
Marzouk also applies mechanisms of violent psychological torture with political prisoners in the Scorpion high-security prison, one of the worst notorious prisons in the whole world, which poses a threat to the detainees’ mental and physical health. Under Marzouk’s Leadership, We Record reported that some detainees inside the prison attempted to end their lives, while others have been on an open hunger strike for months in protest against their detention conditions. The authorities retaliated with punitive measures that could amount to torture, according to a statement by detainees.
According to DAWN, “Tarek Marzouk is responsible for Egypt’s prisons and thus the systematic torture and appalling conditions found within these prisons.” According to an article in Middle East Monitor, “Scorpion Prison was designed so that the sunlight never enters any of its cells during the day. As a result, inmates develop diseases due to the lack of vitamin D, whose scarcity leads to weakness in the mind and in the body. The prison also suffers from lack of ventilation. During summer, temperatures within it rise to unbearable levels, while in winter it turns into a freezer.”
Left with no hope, families of tortured victims are threatened by the authorities, with the aim of preventing victims from seeking redress or defending their right to integrity. Some others are subjected to reprisals when filing lawsuits to hold to account those responsible for torture in prison. Marzouk’s crimes against humanity do not end there. Widening the use of all forms of torture and inhumane treatment of defendants and detainees, Marzouk has also given a green light to the state security to proceed with torture. By enabling impunity for perpetrators, policemen go too far in torturing detainees through electrocuting, beating and sexually abusing them, with the aim of coercing confessions, sometimes causing death.
As Head of the Prisons Authority, Marzouk is responsible for the crimes of torture being committed throughout Egypt’s prisons. He willfully denied all those crimes as he himself is the mastermind that sets the policy by which the Prison Service deals with detainees. The policy that led to the Ministry of Interior announcing the opening of eight new prisons in June 2021. “Torture occurs in police stations, prisons, state security facilities, and Central Security Forces facilities. Torture is perpetrated by police officers, military officers, National Security officers and prison guards. However, prosecutors, judges and prison officials also facilitate torture by failing to curb practices of torture, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment or to act on complaints,” according to the United Nations’ Report of the Committee Against Torture.