Activists call for winter clothes, medical care for Aqrab prison inmates

Hana Afifi , Tuesday 15 Dec 2015

George Ishak
File Photo: Egyptian opposition member George Ishak Cairo May 25, 2013. REUTERS

The National Human Rights Council will submit a request to visit Egypt’s Aqrab prison amid calls for allowing winter clothes and other basic-needs items to be provided for inmates, board member George Ishak told Ahram Online.

The inspection visit aims at making sure the prison is providing mattresses, covers, medical care and is allowing visits, as per what was promised to the semi-governmental body during an August visit.

No date has yet been specified for the inspection.

Families of Aqrab prisoners held a protest in front of the Journalists Syndicate Sunday to call for allowing visits, the release of some prisoners and the allowing of winter clothes for inmates. 

A Facebook group titled the “Association of families of Aqrab prisoners,” citing one of the prisoners, claims that Aqrab prison authorities assaulted inmates on Tuesday 8 December who were on a hunger strike to demand the provision of basic needs.

More than 10 prisoners were severely injured in the crackdown, according to a later statement posted by the group.

"We started on Thursday [3 December] a hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions that we are living in; cells without light, insufficient food, a lack of medical care, one cover for every prisoner and sometimes no cover, a uniform right on the skin [with no underwear], even slippers are banned," reads a message by one of the inmates.

According to the family members of prisoners, prison authorities are cutting off basic needs with the approach of winter and are rarely allowing visits, despite a law which allows weekly visits for prisoners awaiting trial and bi-weekly visits for convicted inmates.

"Every time we hear that the visits have been allowed, family members go and wait for hours… until they tell them it is forbidden. Only once did the visitors manage to send [an inmate] medicine (in an informal way)," says a Facebook post by Al-Hurra editor and doctor Mohamed Abo El-Gheit, whose father-in-law, engineer Sayed Shehab, is jailed in Aqrab prison.

Abo El-Gheit says the family has filed complaints to the Prisons Department and the National Council for Human Rights on 21 September, but to no avail.

Aqrab prison has traditionally been used to house Islamist inmates and prisoners that are deemed dangerous, though recently it has seen inmates including journalists and public figures.

Another currently jailed prisoner is the director of the Mada Foundation for Media Development, Hisham Jaafar, who is accused of “joining an unlawful organisation.”

Jaafar's lawyer, Karim Abdel-Rady, of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, told Ahram Online that Jaafar's family has not been allowed to visit him and he has not been granted private council with his lawyers, which is guaranteed by law. 

"The situation has worsened," says Abdel-Rady, explaining that visits have not been allowed since March. He adds that many of the political prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement, even though it is meant to be a punitive measure.

Jaafar is also being denied medicine and the delivery of clothing, according to Abdel-Rady.

The ANHRI lawyer says many prisoners died recently at Aqrab prison – including Muslim Brotherhood leader Farid Ismail – due to health complications as medical care is not being provided. The last case was on 9 August, when Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya leader Essam Derbala died. 

Egypt's interior ministry will send between Tuesday and Thursday a medical mission of 13 doctors to the Tora prison complex where Aqrab is located to examine all prisoners and provide treatment.

The ministry has repeatedly denied allegation of torture in Egyptian prisons, insisting that any violation will be dealt with according to the law and that prisoners are granted their rights.

Last month, the ministry said that incidents of torture by officers at police stations are "individual cases" which are dealt with without leniency.

The National Council for Human Rights went to Aqrab prison in August for an inspection and issued a report saying that there is no evidence of torture or abuse, a conclusion that was widely criticised by human rights organisations and by members of the council who were not included in the visit.

Assistant interior minister for public relations and media Abo-Bakr Abdel-Kerim had talked to the media following the National Human Rights Council's visit, expressing surprise at complaints that inmates are being tortured.

"The term 'torture' is absolutely non-existent in the dictionary of work at prisons, which is proved by the reports of human rights organisations, including the latest one issued by the National Council for Human Rights, which assured there is no torture at the Tora [prison complex]," Abdel-Kerim told Manchette TV program, which aired on the OnTV channel last August.

Human rights organisations are usually not allowed inside prisons in Egypt without a permit, as well as humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross.

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