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Saturday, 24 July 2021

Calls for release of young Egyptian prisoner El-Khatib after rare disease diagnosis

Hadeer El-Mahdawy , Sunday 26 Mar 2017
Ahmed El-Khatib
Ahmed El-Khatib (Photo: Facebook )

Several campaigns and prominent figures in Egypt are calling for the release from prison of 21-year-old Ahmed El-Khatib after he was diagnosed with the rare disease visceral leishmaniasis.

El-Khatib's sister Fatma told Ahram Online on Sunday that the family wants a pardon for her brother, who is currently receiving treatment in Abassiya Fever Hospital and is not allowed family visits, so that he can be treated at a private hospital or abroad.

"Ahmed is suffering from severe immunodeficiency, weight loss, loss of appetite, his liver and spleen have swollen, and he urgently needs treatment or the disease will lead to his death. Any simple infection could kill him, and we are not able to follow his medical condition," added Fatma El-Khatib.

El-Khatib was arrested in 2014 after he returned to Egypt from a visit to Turkey and was sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in prison for belonging to a terrorist group and disrupting public order.

"His health started to deteriorate after he was moved to Wadi El-Natron prison in May 2016," the sister said.

An online campaign and several human rights groups, including the Freedom for the Brave campaign, have called for his release to receive proper treatment.

El-Khatib's family launched a campaign calling for his release in late February after he started suffering from fatigue.

The family says it submitted numerous complaints to the Prisons Administration, the public prosecutor, and the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), as well as the Egyptian president.

Article 36 of the law 396 on prison regulation says "any sentenced prisoner whose doctor determines suffers of a disease that puts his life at risk or disables him should be checked by the head of medical department of prisons to determine if he should be released [for treatment]."

Before he was arrested, El-Khatib was a student of bio-technology at Misr University for Science and Technology.

On Saturday, Osama El-Ghazaly Harb, the head of a committee created late last year by the president to recommend for pardon youth arrested in politically-related cases, endorsed the call for El-Khatib's release.

Harb said in an Interview on Dream TV that "when the committee was first formed, we recommended 529 people for pardon, and El-Khatib was number 292 on this list."

"Considering his age and health condition, regardless of the charges against him, the president should intervene to release him."

Member of the pardon committee Karim El-Sakka told Ahram Online that the committee is currently reviewing El-Khatib's situation as a special and urgent case.

In late October 2016, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi formed the committee to review the cases of those imprisoned in politically related crimes and others who meet certain other conditions, such as families who have more than one member in jail.

In the past three years, authorities have arrested and tried thousands of people on charges of membership in banned terrorist groups, committing violent acts against the state or breaking the protest law.

George Isaac, a member of the National Council for Human Rights, blames the conditions under which El-Khatib was held for his deteriorating health.

"El-Khatib got his disease in prison, it is an infection caused by dirt. We are calling on the health ministry to check all prisons, because their conditions lead to such diseases, and we should protect both prisoners and prison officials from these diseases," said Isaac.

El-Khatib's sister said that the family was able to sneak two samples of his blood out of the prison, one in September and the other in December, and have them tested at a private lab.

The test revealed that El-Khatib, who was being held in Tora Prison, had an immunity problem and needed to undergo a test of his bone marrow.

"The prison hospital did not have the capability to conduct this test, so we asked that Ahmed be transferred to another hospital," his sister said.

"We again made several complaints, including for medical negligence, against the prison hospital, but they delayed until March, when we first knew about Ahmed's rare disease," said the sister.

Isaac says "I'm personally concerned with treatment for El-Khatib, which is more important to me than his release. His release is in the hands of the presidency, and we are seeking it, but we are asking the public prosecutor and the interior ministry to allow him to be treated."

Local and international human rights organisation have repeatedly condemned deaths in Egyptian prisons, which they attribute to numerous reasons including overcrowded cells and lack of adequate medical care.

Egyptian authorities, however, have repeatedly denied these claims.

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