Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Successful social media campaign

Calls for the release of Ahmed Al-Khatib grow after he is diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness


Ahmed Al-Khatib was moved from Wadi Al-Natroun Prison to Al-Abbasiya Fever Hospital after his family launched a social media campaign highlighting Al-Khatib’s failing health.

Al-Khatib was arrested upon his return from a short visit to Turkey in 2014. The 21-year-old student of bio-technology at Misr University for Science and Technology was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison for “belonging to a terrorist group [the Muslim Brotherhood] and disrupting public order”.

Late in February his family began a campaign demanding his release on medical grounds following a dramatic deterioration in Al-Khatib’s health. Complaints were submitted to the prison administration, the prosecutor-general, the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and the office of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

Prior to his transfer to hospital a medical examination, conducted in response to the pressure generated by the campaign, resulted in Al-Khatib being diagnosed with visceral leishmaniasis, an often fatal parasitic borne disease.

“The NCHR submitted complaints to the Interior Ministry and the prosecutor-general pressing for Al-Khatib to be medically examined and if necessary transferred to a hospital,” NCHR member Nasser Amin told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Al-Khatib suffers from weight loss, high body temperature and deficiency in all blood components. His liver and spleen are swollen. Tests on his bone marrow revealed the presence of the leishmaniasis parasite which is transmitted by exposure to bites from sand flies,” concluded the report conducted by Cairo University’s Department of Clinical Pathology.

Amin admits the medical examination was unlikely to have been ordered had it not been for the momentum built up by Al-Kahtib’s family’s social media campaign yet, according to the Freedom of the Brave Facebook page, Al-Khatib’s family have not been given permission to visit him in the hospital.

Nor has the NCHR. “The council is trying hard to secure permission for a visit,” veteran human rights campaigner and member of NCHR George Ishak told the Weekly. “We have submitted a request and if accepted will visit Al-Khatib as soon as possible.”

Article 36 of Prison Regulation Law 396 states: “Any prisoner suffering a life threatening disease must be examined by the head of the prison medical department, who will determine if he should be released.”  

Earlier this week Osama Al-Ghazali Harb, head of the Detained Youth Committee which was formed in October following a directive from President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and is mandated to recommend prisoners for presidential pardons, echoed the call for Al-Khatib’s release.

“In view of his young age and deteriorating health the president should intervene to release him,” Harb told Dream TV on Saturday. He added that Al-Khatib had been included in earlier lists compiled by the committee of prisoners recommended for presidential pardon.

However, a presidential pardon could be out of the question since Article 155 of the constitution grants the president the right to pardon prisoners who have final rulings only, which is not the case with Al-Khatib.  

“The third list of the presidential pardons for the first time may include prisoners remanded in custody. Though pre-trial detention is not legally addressed to let detainees whose cases are pending investigation eligible for a pardon, the committee is looking at legal ways to render them eligible,” Tarek Al-Khouli, MP and member of the Detained Youth Committee, said in February.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor-general holds jurisdiction in such cases until the amendment of the law or a new law is drafted to give the president the authority to pardon pre-trial detainees.

Since the Detained Youth Committee was formed Al-Sisi has issued two presidential pardons, freeing 203 prisoners on 13 March 2017 and 82 prisoners on 17 November 2016.

“When the committee was first formed we recommended 529 people for pardon and Al-Khatib was number 292 on the list.”

Though Amin believes it imperative Al-Khatib again be recommended for release Ishak says what matters most now is ensuring he receives appropriate medical treatment.

“Right now we need to focus on his right to access proper medical treatment. And according to the pathology report, a medial survey of the prison is urgently needed to check other prisoners and officers for infection,” says Ishak.

A letter concerning the Al-Khatib case, signed by 123 human rights activists, doctors, writers and researchers, was sent earlier this week to the minister of health. “Al-Khatib began showing symptoms of severe illness more than six months ago yet went without proper diagnosis or treatment until his recent transfer to hospital. This delay has resulted in a severe deterioration in his health,” reads the letter.

The letter also requested Al-Khatib’s family be allowed to visit, demanded medical examinations for all prisoners and staff in Wadi Al-Natroun Prison, the disinfection of the prison and eradication of any sand flies there, and the regular release of information informing the public of measures being taken to avoid the risk of the disease’s epidemiological spread.

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