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Amnesty: Inhumane prison conditions in Egypt may constitute torture

The photo, taken during a guided tour organized by Egypt’s State Information Service on February 11, 2020, shows a policeman near watch towers at Tora prison in Cairo. (By AFP)

Amnesty International has decried the inhumane conditions in Egypt’s prisons, accusing prison officials of deliberately cutting inmates' access to proper healthcare, among other rights violations.

In a scathing report released on Monday, the conditions in 16 prisons between February and November 2020 were in the spotlight.

Also in the report were included experiences of 67 individuals in detention, ten of whom died in custody and two who died shortly after being released.

Some prisoners, the Amnesty report said, were deliberately denied access to healthcare due to political affiliations.

Prisoners are kept in dark, poorly ventilated cells with little or no fresh air and unsanitary conditions with little access to water and toilets and receive unhealthy food, it said.

Preventative hygienic measures, the report highlighted, are impossible to implement in the face of the COVID-19; and there is no uniform strategy in the fight against the coronavirus in prisons. 

‘Deliberate denial of healthcare constitutes torture’

Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director, said “prison officials show utter disregard for the lives and well-being of prisoners crammed into the country’s overcrowded prisons and largely ignore their health needs.” 

“It is deplorable that the Egyptian authorities are seeking to intimidate and torment human rights defenders, politicians, activists and other actual or perceived opponents by denying them healthcare. When the denial causes severe pain or suffering and is a deliberate act for the purpose of punishment, it constitutes torture.” 

“There is evidence that prison authorities – in some cases citing instructions from the National Security Agency (NSA) – target certain prisoners to punish them for their perceived opposition to or criticism of the government,” Luther said. 

The United Nations estimates 114,000 people are currently held in prisons across Egypt. 

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has long been under fire for his crackdown on political and civil society groups since he took power in 2014, a year after a military coup spearheaded by him toppled Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president. 

Morsi hailed from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood. Since his removal, authorities have banned the group and rounded up most of its leaders, including Morsi. He collapsed in court and later passed away – a death that rights activists said was evidence of the “inhumane living conditions” in Egyptian prisons.

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