Video triggers debate over Egypt’s prison conditions

A recently released video, obtained by UK-based newspaper The Telegraph, showed what it said was a filthy solitary confinement cell

Shounaz Meky - Al Arabiya News
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Egypt’s prisons remain far below international standards, say human rights groups, after recently released footage showed what was seen as squalid conditions in a maximum security jail.

A recently released video, obtained by UK-based newspaper The Telegraph, showed what it said was a filthy solitary confinement cell, sometimes occupied by more than three inmates at a time.

The footage, which was captured by an inmate at a maximum security prison in Egypt, showed overcrowded prison cells in which the personal belongings of prisoners was hanged on walls to save space on the ground.

The Telegraph’s “through the keyhole” tour shows the tiny kitchenette, in which prisoners prepare their food in an area adjacent to a squat-down toilet.

The narrator expressed his shock at the overcrowded prison cell that is no more than “six feet long and 4.5 feet wide.”

“This is supposed to be a solitary confinement cell...I do not understand how three people can sleep in here,” the narrator adds.

The Telegraph also presented another video of an inmate telling the story of how he was tortured by prison security forces.

The inmate, whose name was withheld by the daily to protect his identity, said he was tortured for days in an attempt to extract a confession.

“Throughout those four days they beat me, electrocuted me, they tortured me in ways I can’t describe,” he tells the camera.

“They started making me memorize confessions, they told me: you’re going to have to stand before someone and say what we tell you word for word’... Because of all this torture and the threat they made, I told them: ‘I will say whatever you want’.”

Commenting on the videos, Nicholas Piachaud of Amnesty International, said: “Prison conditions in Egypt have a clear violation of international standards, including U.N. laws of the treatment of prisoners.”

Piachaud said the videos carried by The Telegraph are consistent with testimonies they have received from other detainees about overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, poor ventilation, and the lack of medical care.

Prisoners can be left without access to sun or fresh air for days, he said.

Thousands of those detained are supporters of ousted President Mohammad Mursi or opponents of the interim government, Piachaud said.

One example Piachaud said is prominent Egyptian “blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah sharing cells with some of their political opponents.”

“There are all being detained in this terrible, terrible prison conditions in violation of U.N. standards on how to humanely treat prisoners,” he said.

Such practices by prison authorities can amount to “crimes against humanity,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa director.

“With thousands arbitrarily arrested and locked up in pretrial detention for months on end, Egyptian prisons appear to be bursting at the seams and more and more accounts are emerging of overcrowding, abhorrent conditions, and police abuse and torture,” Whitson told Al Arabiya News.

“If these practices are part of a state policy and as systematic as initial reports suggest, they could amount to crimes against humanity,” she added.

Prison conditions in Egypt have getting worse for years, according to McGeehan.

“Instead of taking action, Egyptian authorities have left them to deteriorate,” he said, recommending that the country’s government take steps to improve squalid jails.

“[The] Egyptian government should stop blocking the visits of U.N. experts on torture and arbitrary detentions… if they are serious about stopping torture and improving prison conditions.”

Note: An earlier version of this article accidently attributed the quotes included above by Nicholas Piachaud of Amnesty International to Nicholas McGeehan of the Human Rights Watch who didn’t give comment for this piece. This error has been rectified.

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