Egypt: Atrocious prison conditions require genuine rather than superficial changes to the law regulating prisons

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

Egypt’s parliament approved the amendment of several provisions of Law no. 369 of 1956 on the regulation of prisons and it was ratified by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on 20  March. These amendments encompass changes to the following terms: ‘prisons’ are now ‘reform and rehabilitation centers’, ‘prisoners’ are now ‘inmates’, and ‘prison wardens’ are now ‘directors of rehabilitation centers.’ The undersigned human rights organizations consider these amendments to prison nomenclature as nothing but frivolous formalities intended to provide an illusion of reform taking place in the country’s prisons, evocative of the National Human Rights Strategy announced by President al-Sisi in September 2021.  The catastrophic conditions of Egypt’s prisons require much more than simply changing legal nomenclature, in a country where the constitution is violated on a daily basis, and laws do not guarantee the most fundamental of international human rights standards. The amendments to the law regulating prisons fail to address the unprecedented deterioration of the country’s prisons over the past eight years under Sisi’s helm, which includes frequent illegal reprisals, deliberate medical neglect, torture and ill-treatment, and denial of exercise and visitation.

Over the past few years, torture and ill-treatment have become systematic in Egypt’s prisons, and security services enjoy impunity when treating detainees inhumanely. Prisoners are also regularly deprived of legal rights such as correspondence or visits, exercise, books, and basic needs. Over 1,000 prisoners have died in places of detention from June 2013 until the present time. Former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was medically neglected in prison, leading to his death, which was described by rights experts as amounting to a “State-sanctioned arbitrary killing”.

Prisoners in Egypt suffer from grave violations of their human rights violations on a daily basis, while those responsible for their torture and ill-treatment are largely protected by state authorities from even the slightest accountability. The administration of Tora Prison has habitually violated the rights of activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah since the beginning of his detention;  Abdel Fattah and his lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer were assaulted upon their arrival in prison and have since been subjected to inhumane treatment and dire conditions. Abdel Fattah was held in solitary confinement, while the prison administration banned him from all forms of correspondence or communication with his family. 71-year-old  Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, head of the opposition party Strong Egypt, was also subjected to harsh conditions in solitary confinement in addition to medical neglect, despite the fact that he suffers from chronic diseases, some of which require surgical intervention.

Human rights defender Hoda Abdelmoneim is facing trial before an emergency state security court on false charges stemming from her human rights activism. Hoda suffers from kidney failure and a heart condition requiring urgent catheterization, yet the prison administration refuses to transfer her to a hospital outside the prison. On 18 March, activist Ahmed Maher (known as ‘Rigo’) was assaulted under the supervision of the Tora Prison administration in retaliation for a hunger strike that he and other detainees undertook in protest of their prolonged years in arbitrary detention without referral to trial.

The undersigned human rights organizations condemn the Egyptian state’s relentless efforts to deny the reality of the country’s direly deteriorating human rights situation, of which prisons are emblematic. Instead of genuine attempts to improve atrocious prison conditions, state authorities rely upon propaganda and superficial or surface-level changes, such as the recent changes to prison terminology, in order to construct a false narrative of the reality of Egypt’s prison system. We recommend the Egyptian state to amend prison laws to allow independent human rights organizations and the Red Cross to inspect prison conditions, instead of relegating prisons to security services without any oversight except from the Public Prosecution, which has proven its complicity in many violations and has furthermore failed to open credible and independent investigations into the crime of torture in places of detention.

Signatory organizations:

  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  • Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
  • Committee for Justice
  • Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
  • Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
  • Freedom Initiative
  • Nadeem Center
  • The Egyptian Front for Human Rights

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