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‘A Slow Death’: Egypt’s Political Prisoners Recount Horrific Conditions

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‘A Slow Death’: Egypt’s Political Prisoners Recount Horrific Conditions

CAIRO — Every time he appeared before Egyptian prosecutors during his 21-month detention, Ahmed Abdelnabi, a 61-year-old print shop owner from Alexandria, recounted a more disturbing story. Disturbing story.

For the first three weeks, he was kept in a cramped, dirty, unlit cell, and he told his lawyer and his family only to leave for interrogation, during which he was electrocuted, beaten and threatened to rape his wife.

Despite repeated requests, he refused to take medication for his diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and he kept fainting. For the first 40 days, he and his fellow inmates were left without food, surviving on slices of bread that the inmate next door passed through a hole.

“He would say, ‘I’m dying slowly,'” said Shorok Sallam, a lawyer for Mr Abdul Nabi. “‘I’m going to die. Next time I might be too late. I’m being tortured. I’m being denied medicine. I’m being denied food.’ Those were the words he said a million times.

Arrested in a years-long campaign to eliminate opposition to the government, Mr Abdelnabi is one of thousands of political prisoners who have been held for weeks, months or years without trial on charges of like Such a petty crime as an anti-government Facebook post.

According to former detainees, their families and lawyers, and human rights groups, many detainees are kept in cells for long periods without bedding, windows or toilets, without warm clothing in winter and without fresh air in summer, regardless of whether How seriously ill there is no access to medical care. Torture is commonplace, they say. Access is generally prohibited. Some people never leave.

This is common, according to former prisoners, lawyers and human rights groups. Several former detainees and their families said their experiences were less severe, but they, along with human rights groups and lawyers, said they were exceptions.

More than 1,000 people have died in Egyptian custody since authoritarian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in a 2013 military takeover, in a treatment that rights groups say amounts to lethality of negligence.

It’s all part of the justice system that helps Mr. Sisi fight dissent and deter those who might be tempted by opposition politics. Human rights groups estimate Egypt now holds about 60,000 political prisoners. That equates to about half the total prison population, which one government official estimated in October at about 120,000.

Some have been tried and sentenced. But Mr Sisi’s government has largely stuffed its jails with critics through a pretrial detention system, which jails people indefinitely without trial.

There are no public records of the number of prisoners trapped in the pretrial detention system. But a New York Times analysis found that over a six-month period, at least 4,500 people were detained without trial — many in dire and sometimes life-threatening conditions.

Prisons can’t keep up.

Egypt has built 60 detention centres over the past 11 years, almost all under Mr Sisi’s leadership, according to Egyptian reports and the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information, which operates under the government’s Closed this year after ruthless harassment. As of 2021, the country has 78 prisons, the group said.

This spring, Egypt’s most famous prisoner of conscience, Allah Abdel Fattah, a Anglo-Egyptian political activist and intellectual, went on a hunger strike in a small cell without a bed or mattress. For months, he was deprived of books, newspapers, radios, hot water and exercise in the prison yard, his family said, although authorities eased some restrictions amid international pressure for his release.

For a time, Mr Abd El Fattah shared a prison with former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, 71, who suffered from what the United Nations described as life-threatening conditions, including angina, prostate disease and kidney stones. The United Nations said, Apart from basic examinations, he received almost no medical care.

But the authorities won’t reserve this treatment only for prestigious prisoners.

 

His crime? protest

Ahmed Abdelnabi and his wife Raia Hassan boarded a flight from Cairo to Istanbul in December 2018. Their daughter, Nosayba Mahmoud, said they planned to stop in Turkey on the way to visit her in Dallas.

But in Istanbul, they never got off the plane.

Three weeks later, the family heard that a defence lawyer had found the couple at the Egyptian prosecutor’s office. Security officers apprehended them before takeoff.

When Mr Abdulnaby’s lawyer, Ms Salam, saw him, she reported that he was unable to move the left side of his body, was covered in red, and was barely able to see with repeated electric shocks causing burns.

“It’s just that they don’t have the idea of ​​taking medicine, they’re under a lot of psychological pressure, they don’t eat, they don’t bathe, they don’t change their clothes, not to mention you don’t know where they are, what happened to them,” said Ms Mahmoud, 37. things—it’s painful.” You don’t know if your loved one will survive or be killed. ”

Requests for comment through a government spokesman to Egypt’s state prosecutor, prison officials and the presidential palace were not responded to. But officials said some politically motivated arrests were necessary to restore stability after the upheaval of the Arab Spring revolutions in 2011.

Mr Abdul Nabi has been jailed by Egypt’s former authoritarian leader after printing leaflets for protesters. This time, prosecutors appear to be interested in why he joined Islamist-led protests against the 2013 military takeover, his family and lawyers said.

The protest in Cairo’s Laba Square was one of the most controversial in recent history. Demonstrators call for the reinstatement of President Mohamed Morsi, who was elected in the country’s first free vote after former President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power in the 2011 uprising of.

Mr Morsi is the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic group that has been feared and suppressed for decades by Mr Mubarak’s secular government to which Mr Sisi belongs. In 2013, amid growing public anger against Mr Morsi, the military regained power and set out to discredit and dismantle the Muslim Brotherhood.

It brutally suppressed the Rabah sit-in, killing at least 800 people in a single day.

Mr Morsi was deported and detained, passed out in a Cairo court and died in June 2019. For six years, he had been denied treatment for diabetes and high blood pressure.

Being labeled an Islamist could lead to dismissals, asset freezes and travel bans, among the worst Egyptian prisons could suffer so far, according to the families of former detainees and prisoners arrested for fraternity ties Treatment – Group members are treated as terrorists in the eyes of the government.

Mr. Abdelnabi’s daughter, Ms. Mahmoud, said her father had never joined the fraternity, although he sympathized with some of the fraternity’s goals and voted for Mr. Morsi.

Her mother, Ms Hassan, was released. But Mr Abdul Nabi was transferred to Cairo’s notorious Torah prison, where he was held in Scorpion 2, a ward known as Egypt’s harshest prison.

Tora’s new detainees receive what the prisoners call a “welcome party,” with gallows humor. Several former prisoners and defense attorneys described the practice: Those arriving blindfolded through a corridor of guards who attacked them with sticks. They fall until they fall.

In his new cell, Mr Abdelnabi told his lawyers he had no toilets, lights or bedding, just a thin blanket he used to sleep on the dirty floor. The guards eventually brought food – Mr Abdulnaby said he found cheese and bread that were inedible. It only comes every four days or so.

Neglect and pain

Mr. Abdul Nabi was pale and emaciated as his detention stretched from weeks to months. His lawyer, Ms Salam, said he was incoherent and could not make a sentence. Ms Mahmoud said when the pain of the kidney stone made him scream, other prisoners banged on the wall to get the attention of the guards. But most of the day passed before he got the painkillers.

Ms Mahmoud said the family did everything they could to bribe guards with nearly $1,300 to give their father a bucket to use as a toilet.

His lawyer, Ms Salam, said when prosecutors allowed them to bring food, warm clothing and medicine on several occasions, the guards refused them on security grounds.

Ms Salem said Mr Abdul Nabi had developed scabies, a skin condition with a rash so severe that he had dried blood hearing from scratching. The prosecutor was afraid to grab it and let him leave the room.

He waited outside while his detention was extended for another 15 days.

After that, prosecutors finally allowed topical creams to be used. But when the lawyer handed it over to the guards, she said, they refused to take it.

Some people never leave

For political prisoners, detention is equivalent to the death penalty.

Amnesty International found in a report last year that they rarely get medicines when needed or receive treatment in outside hospitals. According to the Geneva-based Judicial Council, more than 70 percent of Egyptian prisoners die in custody because of lack of medical care.

Among them were a young filmmaker jailed for a music video mocking Mr. Elsesi, and an Egyptian-American with diabetes and heart disease that was largely untreated. Both died in 2020.

The group found that torture was responsible for nearly 14 percent of prison deaths, while poor conditions contributed to nearly 3 percent.

Salah Sallem, a doctor and former member of the government-appointed National Human Rights Commission, declined to answer questions about specific prisoners without looking at their medical files.

“Death is part of life,” he said.

Final ceremony

A day shortly after the end of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, in 2020, a guard found Mr Abdul Nabi disoriented and bleeding from his eyes, Ms Mahmood said, other prisoners told her later. Blood clots dripped from his mouth. He eventually stopped eating or drinking and told his lawyer he was in great distress.

When summoned, a prison doctor said there was nothing he could do, and he later spoke to detainees on the ward, according to his family. As of September 2, 2020, he was unable to walk without assistance and had to be carried to the prison infirmary.

When he returned, he had his cellmates read him the Koran, which was the final ritual. He died a few minutes later.

Prison authorities refused to hand over his body to his family until they signed a death certificate for “natural causes,” they said.

Shortly before his death, Mr. Abdulnaby’s case was sent to trial. Ms Mahmoud said the court appeared to have been uninformed at the first hearing that one of the accused had died.

called his name. No one answered except a former cellmate who started sobbing.

“Remove his name,” the judge said, and that’s it.

 

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