Egypt: Ministry of Interior and Prosecution culpable for death of Shady Habash from medical neglect while held in pretrial detention

In Egypt /Road Map Program, Statements and Position Papers by CIHRS

The undersigned human rights organizations condemn continual medical neglect in Egypt’s prisons and the refusal to provide healthcare to prisoners, putting their lives at risk. The undersigned hold the Ministry of Interior, represented by the Prison Department, and the Public Prosecution, fully responsible for the death of filmmaker Shady Habash. Shady’s death was a result of medical neglect by prison officials, who abstained from providing lifesaving medical treatment as he was dying from methyl alcohol intoxication while in detention – as noted in the statement by the public prosecution. Shady had been detained in Tora Prison for over two years in violation of the law. The undersigned organizations call for a serious, transparent and impartial investigation, involving all parties concerned, to ensure accountability for Shady Habash’s death.

The methyl alcohol poisoning of Shady Habash should have been dealt with as a medical emergency requiring immediate hospital admission; with Shady put under constant medical observation, his vital signs monitored and the necessary testing performed, together with intravenous fluids, methyl alcohol intoxication antidotes and possible gastric lavage. Instead  – even after he showed clear signs of toxicity, such as repeated vomiting, blurring of the vision and slipping in and out of consciousness – Shady Habash was sent to the prison clinic three times, again according to the statement by the prosecution, where he was given an antiemetic and sent back to his cell.

We also call upon the Public Prosecutor to order the release of Mostafa Gamal, the remaining defendant in the same case Shady Habash was prosecuted under  (no.480 of 2018), who is still in pretrial detention. Furthermore, the Public Prosecutor must release prisoners held in remand or pretrial detention for more than two years, without indicting them in new cases; and an investigation must be opened into the use of pretrial detention as a punishment in and of itself and for durations that violate the law.

The undersigned organizations emphasize the danger of allowing the prosecution and the judiciary to use pretrial detention as a legal pretext to detain individuals, and call for  an end to retaliation against and harassment of prisoners of conscience or political prisoners, while stressing the urgent need for the Egyptian authorities to commit to their legal obligations and to provide adequate medical care to prisoners, in accordance with Article 24 of the Prison Regulation bylaws no. 79/1961, which states that “the prison doctor is responsible for undertaking health measures that ensure the protection of prisoners’ health, especially protection from infectious diseases. These measures include monitoring the quality and sufficiency of food, clothes and textiles provided to prisoners as well as monitoring the cleanliness of workshops, sleeping wards, and all prison facilities.”

24-year-old filmmaker and photographer Shady Habash died in Tora Prison on the morning of the 2nd of May 2020, after spending over two years in pretrial detention in violation of Article 143 of the Law of Criminal Procedures, which limits pretrial detention to six months in misdemeanor cases, eighteen months in felony cases, and two years if the applicable criminal penalty would be life imprisonment or capital punishment. However, judicial authorities had been continually renewing Shady’s detention – as they do for many political prisoners – without investigation or trial, based on a fabricated list of charges frequently used against prisoners of conscience, political activists and human rights defenders.

Security forces arrested Shady Habash on the 1st of March 2018. He was presented to the State Security Prosecution pending High State Security case no. 480/2018, facing charges of joining an illegal group, disseminating false news, and misusing social media channels.

On May 5, 2020, the Public Prosecution issued a statement reviewing the circumstances of Shady Habash’s death in prison, in which it claimed he underwent medical examination at the onset of symptoms from drinking a quantity of methyl alcohol – by mistake.  The issued forensic report supported this claim, although most likely he was not subjected to a postmortem, which in itself reflects the Egyptian state authorities’ negligence towards the health and lives of prisoners.

The prosecution report also stated that the prison doctor only gave Shady an anti-spasmodic and an intestinal antiseptic, although it was clear he had a critical case of poisoning that required his immediate transfer to hospital. His condition deteriorated,  necessitating- according to the text of the prosecution’s statement- his re-examination and the consultation of another doctor. Shady Habash died before he was transferred to the hospital – according to the statement.

According to the available information surrounding the incident, prison authorities abstained from timely emergency intervention despite pleas from Shady’s cellmates warning that his worsening medical condition was a medical emergency requiring prompt admission to a hospital.

Shady Habash’s cause of death is attributable to the withholding of necessary intervention according to Article 238 of Egypt’s penal code, which states that those “who mistakenly caused the death of another through neglect, carelessness, impulsivity or disregard of laws, decrees, regulations and systems will be punished by a minimum of six months imprisonment and/or a maximum 200-pound fine. The penalty will be between two and five years in prison and/or a fine between 100 and 500 pounds if the crime is committed as a result of the perpetrator’s breach of the responsibilities of his profession, position or skill, or if he was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or a narcotic drug when he committed the infraction that resulted in the incident or abstained at the time of the incident from helping or seeking help for the victim, although it was in his capacity to do so.”

Shady Habash’s death was not the first in that Tora Prison cell. A few months ago, Omar Adel died in the same cell, which raises our concern regarding the fate of other vulnerable persons inside Egyptian prisons, such as the elderly and those with life-threatening illnesses requiring transfer to a hospital outside prison for the necessary testing, surgeries or appropriate medical care. With the prison authorities’ apparent disregard for detainees’ lives, many others are at risk of succumbing to the same fate as Shady.

The undersigned organizations remind the Egyptian authorities of their legal and humanitarian commitments, enshrined in international agreements,  Egypt’s constitution and national legislation regarding the humane treatment of individuals deprived of their freedom and the responsibility of the state to provide healthcare to prisoners without discrimination on the basis of their legal status. This includes Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), rule no. 24 of the UN Standards Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), as well as articles 33 and 36 of Law 396/1956 on prison regulation, which clearly stated the mandatory provision of healthcare to prisoners inside prison medical facilities, with these patients transferred to an outside hospital if prison facilities are ill-equipped.

Signatories

  • Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
  • Belady Center for Rights and Freedoms
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  • Committee for Justice
  • Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
  • Egyptian Front for Human Rights
  • El Nadim Center
  • Freedom Initiative

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