Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1278, (14 - 20 January 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1278, (14 - 20 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Within these walls

Last week’s visit by the National Council for Human Rights to the Aqrab Wing of Tora Prison focussed attention on the conditions in which prisoners are held, writes Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 5 January a delegation from the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), a body funded by the government and with members appointed by the state, visited Tora Prison to assess conditions following a spate of complaints from detainees and their families.

In a statement released after the visit, the delegation said concerns arising from the complaints it had received from prisoners in the Aqrab wing of Tora Prison had been settled following the inspection.

Inmates at Aqrab, one of seven high-security facilities in the Tora complex on the outskirts of Cairo, had complained about a lack of warm clothing in winter, restrictions over access to books, the denial of visits and lack of medical care and provision of medicines.

“Our delegation has now resolved all the complaints apart from the duration of visits by prisoners’ families,” said the NCHR.

“Prison authorities receive many requests for visits. We allow the maximum number to enter though inevitably some applications are denied,” said the Ministry of Interior.

“Delegations from the NCHR are welcome at all prisons. Prison regulations are completely in line with the law,” the ministry’s statement added.

According to Kamal Abbas, an NCHR member of the delegation, however, the prison authorities refused to allow the delegation to visit cells, claiming that it would cause “chaos” given that a majority of Muslim Brotherhood detainees had refused to see the delegation.

The delegation met only four prisoners, says Abbas, including Brotherhood leaders Safwat Hegazi and Essam Sultan.

“We could not verify prisoners’ complaints because of intransigence on the part of the prison administration and the alleged refusal by prisoners to meet us,” he said.

NCHR member George Ishak said three of the four inmates they did meet insulted the delegation and accused it being part of a government that lacks legitimacy.

According to Ishak, the three prisoners were wearing warm clothes. When asked if they had been beaten or tortured while in prison, one of the prisoners, a Brotherhood member and former parliamentarian, answered no.

The visit stirred controversy after NCHR member Ragia Omran, a human rights lawyer, was denied entry. Omran wrote on her Facebook account that the head of the prison, General Abdel-Baset, stopped her at the gate and informed her that her name was not on the list of permitted visitors.

“George Ishak and Kamal Abbas told him that this was an NCHR delegation. I am a member of the council and it does not submit names in advance. Yet I was still denied entry.”

Omran added, “The prison administration had been preparing for this visit. They are trying to improve conditions. Let us wait and see if the improvements will continue after the visit.”

Omran has collected many letters from prisoners’ families complaining about medical negligence by the authorities.

The visit took place following a meeting between President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and NCHR Secretary General Mohamed Feyek on 22 December.

“President Al-Sisi pledged to support the NCHR’s applications to visit prisons and address any infringements of prisoners’ legal rights,” said presidency spokesperson Alaa Youssef in an official statement.

Inspections of prisons and police stations by rights groups must first be authorised by the Interior Ministry. Surprise inspections are permitted only by prosecutors and Interior Ministry officials.

A report issued by the NCHR following a visit by council members to the same prison in August was widely criticised by human rights groups. The report said conditions at the prison, including the provision of healthcare, were satisfactory.

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