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Tuesday, 04 August 2020

Egypt's rights group says complaints by inmates of notorious prison settled

The remarks by the semi-official National Council for Human Rights came following a visit to Al-Aqrab wing of Tora Prison earlier this week

Ahram Online , Thursday 7 Jan 2016
Egyptian army soldiers and Police officers guard the Tora prison complex in Cairo, where the Aqrab prison is located, Thursday, Aug 22, 2013 (Photo: AP)
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Egypt's semi-official human rights body, the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), said most of the complaints it earlier received from inmates of Al-Aqrab wing of Tora Prison have been settled, following a visit by a delegation earlier this week to the notorious prison where Muslim Brotherhood leaders are held.

An NCHR delegation visited on Tuesday the heavily-guarded Al-Aqrab, or Scorpion, wing of Tora Prison to ensure authorities apply "legal standards" in detention conditions and medical care of prisoners.

The council said most of the grievances it received, which included a lack of warm clothing in winter, restrictions over school books and medication, poor medical assistance by prison authorities and short durations of family visits, have been settled.

"The council ensured that complaints have been resolved, except for that of the duration of the visit[s]," NCHR said in a statement late Wednesday, after an interior ministry official asserted that prison law and regulations in connection with the issues in question are upheld.

The statement added that prison authorities denied delegation members to access wards, saying prisoners refuse to meet with them.

Kamal Abbas, an NCHR member who was part of the delegation, had said earlier that the delegation could not verify complaints of violations against prisoners because of "intransigence" by the prison administration or the alleged refusal by prisoners to meet them, which members could also not verify.

Abbas said prison authorities informed them they shouldn't go inside the wards because there would be "chaos" if they visited, as some of the prisoners, mainly Muslim Brotherhood members, reject the visit.

The delegation only met four inmates, including Brotherhood leaders Safwat Hegazi and Essam Sultan, the NCHR statement read. 

The visit Tuesday has stirred controversy after council member Ragia Omran, a prominent rights lawyer, said she was not allowed to take part in the visit.

She said that ahead of the tour, and following complaints, prison authorities had been preparing the prison and attempting to improve conditions.

"Will they carry on improving conditions after the visit is over?" she asked.

Inspections of prisons and police stations must be sanctioned beforehand by the interior ministry, something rights advocates say gives authorities the chance to cover up violations.

A visit by some council officials to the same prison compound last August was widely criticised by rights campaigners, including some council members, who viewed it as an attempt by to polish the image of the authorities.

The council at the time issued a controversial report indicating good healthcare and conditions at the prison, contrary to complaints it had received from detainees.

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