The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Sawarka's testimony to the EOHR
11 February 1999The EOHR strongly welcomes the release of Mahmoud Soliman Sallam Al-Sawarka, the oldest Egyptian prisoner held in Israeli prisons, who returned home on Wednesday, 10 February 1999. An EOHR mission welcomed him on his arrival to Refah. The mission listened to his experience in Israeli prisons, which was always a subject of concern for the organization ever since it started its campaign in defense of the rights of Egyptian POWs in Israel. Sawarka was tried on 15 July 1978, during the Israeli occupation of the town of Arish, on charges of exploding an Israeli vehicle, an incident which resulted in the death of an Israeli soldier and the injury of another. Sawarka was sentenced to 450 years in prison. However, after spending about 21 years in prison, last week he was granted amnesty. Sawarka's testimony to the EOHR An EOHR representative met Sawarka in his house in Al-Arish and listened to his account of the violations suffered by him and other Egyptian prisoners in Israeli prisons. His testimony asserted previous information revealed by the EOHR to the local and international public opinion over the last years. Sawarka said that he was held in the prisons of Magdal Ashkaloun, Nafha and Askalan for over 21 years, during which he was subjected to inhuman treatment and placed in solitary confinement for eight years. Moreover, on the medical level, he was treated like a guinea pig, as he underwent seven unsuccessful stomach operations conducted by medical students. Sawarka added "I was close to death because of these operations … they dealt with me with deliberate carelessness and poor care." The EOHR representative saw the disfiguring marks of the operations on his abdomen. He added that one of the main violations of his most basic rights as a prisoner was that for twelve years, he was kept on a diet consisting of bread and a glass of milk. Torture Sawarka was subjected to heinous torture, both physical and psychological, to coerce information from him about his comrades in the popular resistance during the Israeli occupation of Arish, particularly about members of the Arab-Sinai Organization, in which he played a prominent role. As for the methods of torture, these included the release of trained dogs to intimidate him; being placed in a refrigerator for intermittent periods and then having hot water poured on his body; being suspended with hands and legs tied with iron fetters; severe beatings and kicking on the head and body by the guards. In addition, he was prevented from receiving visits or seeing his relatives, and was kept totally isolated from the outside world. In this respect, he recalls that it was not before twelve years had passed that he was able to see his wife, who was twenty when he was imprisoned, and his daughter, born after his imprisonment. Sawarka's testimony reveals the deteriorating conditions of Egyptian and Arab prisoners and detainees in Israeli prisons. They are still subjected to humiliating practices and flagrant violations. Some of them have served their sentence a long time ago but were not released. Sawarka mentioned to the EOHR the names of some Egyptians in Israeli prisons. These include: Sultan Abdel Rasoul, Shetewi Hosheel Azazma, Soliman Hosheel Azazma, Ramadan Al-Nagra Al-Sawarka, Muslim Gohama Tarabeen, Salama Tarabeen, all held in Al-Nafha Prison; Ayman Younis and Salama Azazma, in Magdal Ashkaloun Prison; and Iyad Hassana in Beer Sabaa Prison. The EOHR thanks again the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Arab human rights organizations, particularly the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), for their efforts in Sawarka's case. It also calls on them to continue and intensify their efforts for the release of all Egyptian and Arab prisoners held in Israel. With regard to Sawarka, the organization appeals to the Egyptian authorities to provide him with free and full medical care, refer him to a specialized medical committee, and provide social security for him and his family. The EOHR believes that the information included in Sawarka's testimony confirms what has been said about the flagrant violations committed by the Israeli authorities against Egyptian and Arab prisoners. Such violations, which are carried out as part of a systematic policy adopted by Israel, are in non-conformity with international human rights standards in general and the Convention Against Torture and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners in particular. Therefore, the EOHR will refer Sawarka's testimony to the United Nations Committee Against Torture for investigation into the information it includes.
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