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The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights

Death in silence and seclusion
The EOHR 11th report on the violation of the rights of prisoners

Saturday 15 August 1998

More than two months have elapsed since the statement made by Nabeel Seyam,
first assistant of the Minister of the Interior and head of the Prison
Department, to Al-Ahram newspaper on 30 May 1998.  He said that human
rights organizations "want to confuse the public opinion, and have
well-known objectives."  He denied the information included in reports by
human rights organizations, particularly by the Egyptian Organization for
Human Rights (EOHR), on torture, ill-treatment and lack of medical care in
Egyptian prisons.  He said that "this information is fallacious and is far
from the truth."   Although the EOHR affirms the information included in
its reports on the deterioration of prison conditions and the 'deliberate'
violation of the right to medical care and all other rights, it hopes that
speaking about human rights violations in prisons would be just 'taking of
the past', and that the Prison Department, after the statement made by its
head, would take all necessary measures to put an end to the deterioration
of prison conditions.

The EOHR regrets to announce to the public opinion that over the period
from 30 May to the date of the preparation of this report, it received new
information, that is being verified according to the EOHR work mechanisms,
on the continuation of the deterioration of prison conditions.  It affirms
that the lack of medical care in Egyptian prisons has become a daily
suffering experienced by political prisoners and detainees.  Day after day,
the seriousness and negative consequences of the lack of medical care in
Egyptian prisons are aggravated.  It totally disregards human rights stated
for prisoners and detainees.  Prisoners are constantly awaiting death in
silence and seclusion imposed on them. 

Tomorrow 16 August 1998, the EOHR will issue its 11th report on prison
conditions in Egypt under the title 'Death in silence and seclusion".  The
report monitors and documents the gross violations against the rights of
prisoners in eight prisons: Al-Wadi Al-Gadid, Damanhour, Abu-Zaabal, Fayoum
General Prison, Wadi Al-Natroun I, Wadi Al-Natroun II, Assuit General
Prison, and the prisons of Tora Complex.  This is the fourth report on
prisons issued by the EOHR in 1998 within a plan to monitor and evaluate
the conditions in eleven Egyptian prisons.  The reports aim to alert the
national public opinion on the seriousness of prison conditions, and to
urge the authorities to take legal and practical measures to ameliorate
prison conditions.

The information included in this report relies on verified accounts by
prisoners, and their families and lawyers. It also relies on the findings
of 30 visits by EOHR fieldwork lawyers to prisons over the period 30 May-8
August 1998, during which they met 31 political prisoners.  It must be
noted that over the same period, the EOHR sent 398 notifications to the
competent authorities on the violation of prisoners' right to medical care.
 Of these notifications 135 were sent to the Head of Prison Department, 130
to the Minister of the Interior, and 133 to the Public Prosecutor. 
However, the EOHR regrets to say that it did not receive any reply to these

This report affirms the results reached by the EOHR in previous reports in
that lack of medical care in prisons has become a phenomenon that spreads
widely in all Egyptian prisons.  The information received by the EOHR
reveals that lack of medical care is manifested in the following:

*   Over crowded cells despite their small area, insufficient ventilation,
lack of recreational activities, lack of hygiene, and pollution of drinking
water.  All these factors lead to the spread of diseases and epidemics such
as TB and meningitis.  The picture would be more clear if we know that the
area of a collective cell in Abu Zaabal High Security Prison for instance
is 4 x 6 x 3.2.m., and is made of concrete, has an open toilet of about .5
x 1 m. with a squat toilet, one tap, and no shower.  Each cell has two
windows, one of them is 1 x .25 m. with iron bars and a mesh, and is
between the cell and the cell to its back.  The second is 2.5 x .25 m.,
with iron bars and a mesh too, and is to the very right of the cell.  It is
planned to allow fresh air into the cell, but it does not allow sun beams. 
Thus, the windows are among the opaque windows prohibited internationally
as they prevent viewing the outside world.  

A number of about 18-20 inmates are placed in each collective cell.  This
means that the space allowed to each prisoner is a little bit more than one
meter.  The suffering of the inmates of Abu Zaabal High Security Prison is
not confined to the small space they are given which causes them to be
uncomfortable and unable to sleep properly, but also that the over crowded
cells, insufficient ventilation, high humidity, water pollution, and lack
or recreation lead to the spread of diseases such as TB and scabies. 

*  Insufficiency and inadequacy of food: Reports received by the EOHR
affirm that the prison administration is adopting a policy of 'starvation
for prisoners'.  In Wadi Al-Natroun I and II prisons, for example, two
meals are distributed daily except Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays when
only one meal (breakfast) is given to prisoners.  Breakfast is distributed
at about ten a.m. and consists of a small amount of beans or lentils.  In
addition, five loaves of bread are given to each prisoner every day.  At
twelve noon, another amount of beans or lentils is distributed as 'dinner'.
 The beans or lentils are in all cases not well cooked and full of insects
and impurities, and are distributed in filthy utensils.  

The prisoners of Wadi Al-Natroun Prison complain that they rarely receive
meat, fish, halawa, jam, or cheese.  They added that the cell 'sacrificer',
i.e. the prisoner who accepts to receive food for the whole cell, is
exposed to beatings and insults.  They also complain that the prison
administration usually seizes the food brought during visits, and that the
food allowed into the prison reaches them unfit for human use because it is
searched in an unclean manner. 

The reports received and documented by the EOHR indicate that prison
hospitals are also in a bad condition and lack sufficient human and
technical resources, and that prison doctors do not perform their duties in
a fair and impartial manner.  In addition, the prison administration
refuses to receive the medicine brought by the families.  There are
complaints by detainees and their families that the prison administration
deliberately abstains from providing medical care as a form of collective

The situation is aggravated due to the closure imposed on four main
prisons: Fayoum, Istikbal Tora, High Security (Scorpion), and Leman
Abu-Zaabal.  This is in addition to the harassment of families and lawyers
during visits to the open prisons.  Visits take place collectively amidst
intensive security existence and last only for 5-7 minutes.  Moreover,
inmates are warned not to talk during the visits about the violations they
experience in prison.  Thus, all Egyptian prisoners have become victims of
'silence and seclusion' in prisons.

This report includes 6 cases of death as a result of lack of medical care. 
The cases have been documented by the EOHR fieldwork unit based on the
accounts by the families of the deceased prisoners, official reports made
by competent authorities on the death cases, and medical reports on the
cause of death.  In addition, the EOHR has strong doubts that 7 further
deaths have taken place as a result of lack of medical care, but it was
unable to verify the exact cause of death, because the competent
authorities did not reply to the EOHR notifications on the one hand, and
the families of the deceased were reluctant to give information about the
death of their sons on the other.  The thirteen death cases took place as
follows: 4 cases in Leman Tora Prison, 4 cases in Fayoum General Prison, 3
cases in Damanhour Prison, 1 case in Abu Zaabal Prison. 1 case in
Al-Wadi-Al-Gadid Prison.  The report also presents 120 documented cases of
sick prisoners some of them need urgent surgeries, and some must be
segregated or taken to specialized hospitals as they have contacted TB.

The EOHR issues this report as part of its campaign to stop ill-treatment
of prisoners and detainees in Egyptian prisons which started in 1991.  It
hopes the report will help spur all civil society institutions, as well as
local, Arab and international human rights centers and organizations to
urge Egyptian authorities to provide the constitutional safeguards and put
an end to ill-treatment of prisoners, provide them with proper medical
care, and show respect for the law, the Constitution and international
human rights standards.

Other EOHR Press Releases
EOHR || Human Rights in Egypt

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This document is published online by Derechos Human Rights. Derechos works against violations to human rights and humanitarian law all over the world.