Families are not informed when political detainees pass away in prison

The family members of detainee Tamer Fikri Gamal El-Din were at the gates of Minya Prison in preparation to visit him, when prison authorities informed the family that he had died a week ago and that his body had been taken to the hospital, without notifying them of the death in violation of the law. Tamer, 50, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a military court for “joining a terrorist group,” died alone, far from his family, in suspicious circumstances. This is not the first time that a prisoner has died without the prison authorities notifying his family, in flagrant violation of the law, the rights of prisoners and their families, and even human rights.

A recurring incident

Lawyer Khaled Al-Masry commented on what happened, stressing that it was not the first time, referring to a similar incident that occurred earlier this month, where Minya prison did not inform the family of prisoner Mohamed Abdel Hamid of his death, and the family did not know about it until nine days later when they went to visit him.

In August 2021, the Egyptian Network for Human Rights documented an unfortunate incident, where a detainee, Saleh Saleh Badawi, died and was buried without the knowledge of his family. The family continued over a period of five months to find out where he was buried, until they concluded that the authorities ordered his burial in the Shebin El-Koum cemetery in Menoufia, even though he was from the village of Nahya in the Kerdasa Centre in Giza Governorate.

Another similar incident occurred in July 2020, when the family of the detainee, Mustafa Abdel Rahman Khalifa, 48, discovered by chance that he had died from coronavirus without the prison authorities notifying them of his illness or even his death. Lawyer Ahmed Al-Attar said that this has happened repeatedly over the past two years, and despite its violation of the constitution, law, and humanity, none of the security officials have been held accountable for violating their duties.

Article 34 of the Prison Organisation Law states that the prison administration must immediately inform the family of the deceased prisoner so that they can receive the body. If the family has not come within 24 hours, the body must be taken to the nearest mortuary facility. In the event of a terminal illness, the family must be informed immediately and allowed to visit the prisoner. In addition to the illegality of what is happening, this behaviour lacks humanity and decency and refutes that the Sisi regime cares about political reform and improving human rights conditions.

Five deaths in prison in the last two months

Five detainees died in an Egyptian prison in January and February, after their health deteriorated due to the dire state of Egyptian prisons. The El Nadim Centre for Combating Violence and Torture, an independent human rights organisation operating from inside Egypt, recorded the death of 59 detainees inside Egyptian prisons and places of detention during 2021.

According to Al-Nadim monitoring, 79 detainees died in Egyptian prisons during 2020, 56 deaths occurred in 2019, and 67 deaths in 2018, including 48 because of medical negligence and six cases due to torture, while 118 detainees died in places of detention during 2017. Also, 123 deaths were recorded in 2016, and 2015 recorded a record number of deaths in prisons, reaching 137 cases. Thus, the total number of deaths in Egyptian prisons during the last seven years was 644, all of which took place during the era of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, whose media praises Egypt’s prisons and says they are like tourist resorts.

What are the causes of the high number of prison deaths?

Egyptian prisons are an environment conducive to the proliferation of diseases, with record levels of overcrowding. According to the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights, which is affiliated with the government, the overcrowding rate in prisons is roughly 150 per cent and exceeds 300 per cent in police stations. Independent organisations estimate the situation to be even worse.

Egyptian prisons are famous for their filth and violation of hygiene and health rules, as they have no running water, no proper ventilation, and most of the time no sunlight enters them. In November 2019, two experts from the United Nations said that abusive detention conditions in Egypt “may seriously endanger the health and lives of thousands of prisoners.” Above all this, there is a clear shortcoming in the health care that prisoners receive. According to former detainees, prison authorities obstruct medical care procedures for nothing but to intimidate them, as the drugs are refused entry to patients, and prisoners refuse to leave patients for treatment in hospitals, even at their own expense.

The Egyptian authorities are not afraid of the consequences of medical negligence in prisons. Even the politically motivated detainees locally and internationally were not extradited, led by the late President Mohamed Morsi, who suffered both due to medical negligence and died during his court session.

Experts at the United Nations indicated that the conditions in Egyptian prisons directly led to the death of Morsi, as the former Egyptian president was suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, and despite this, he was prevented from obtaining life-saving care, and as a result he suffered from poor eyesight. Gradually he lost sight in his left eye and often fell into a diabetic coma and lost consciousness. In addition, he suffered from tooth decay and gum infections and was denied medical attention.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the suffering of detainees and caused many to die, especially those who suffer from health problems. According to Human Rights Watch, Egyptian prisons and police stations witnessed a possible outbreak of the coronavirus which led to the death of several prisoners, considering overcrowding, poor health conditions and a lack of medical care. All this is taking place under the noses of the Sisi administration, which is believed to be using medical negligence as a weapon to get rid of its opponents without any trouble. It is enough for you to fall ill in prison so that your inevitable fate is death.