Egyptian prisons are rife with human rights abuses, according to a Monday report from Amnesty International.
“What do I care if you die?” Negligence and denial of health care in the Egyptian prisons, the 74-page report, looked into eight key issues: mass arbitrary detention policy; cruel and inhuman detention conditions; barring prisoners’ contact with family; mishandled COVID-19 response; medical negligence; deliberate healthcare denial; death in custody; and impunity with lack of oversight.
The report found that “Egyptian authorities abuse pre-trial detention to detain thousands for months or years without formally charging or trying them, including for expressing their opinions, taking part in peaceful protests, doing media work, criticizing the authorities online, defending human rights or participating in politics.” Also, the country’s legal system provides for imprisonment to be imposed upon persons for “acts that do not constitute internationally recognized criminal offences.” The country has a legal obligation to protect human rights given that it ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Further, the report found that against international human rights laws and standards, prisoners in the country are not afforded their right to health and minimum treatment standards including hygiene standards. In particular, mental health care was identified as a major shortfall in the country’s prisons, especially given that prisoners are almost always denied access to psychologists and psychiatrists. Paired with restrictions imposed on communication with family and the outside world while living in inhumane detention conditions, the report found that suicidal thoughts are common among prisoners. And for those who self-harmed or attempted suicide, “difficulty and delays in receiving external mental health support” persisted.
Other human rights issues identified include severe overcrowding; insufficient food; abusing solitary confinement, including by holding persons for political reasons; delayed and inadequate healthcare, including during emergencies and poor gender-specific healthcare; sexual harassment perpetrated by medical staff; withholding medication for political reasons; and propaganda whitewashing prison conditions. The report concluded that such human rights abuses contributed to health deterioration and untimely death of affected prisoners.
In a statement, the organization’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, Philip Luther, commented:
Prison officials show utter disregard for the lives and wellbeing of prisoners crammed into the country’s overcrowded prisons and largely ignore their health needs. They leave it to the prisoners’ families to provide them with medication, food and cash to buy basics like soap and inflict additional suffering by denying them adequate medical treatment or timely transfer to hospitals … When the denial causes severe pain or suffering and is a deliberate act for the purpose of punishment, it constitutes torture.
Human rights abuses in Egypt prisons are nothing new. As the report noted, “[i]nhumane detention conditions have long plagued Egypt’s prisons, adversely affecting prisoners’ enjoyment of their right to health.” A 63-page report released by the organization in May of 2018 concluded that “there is a human rights crisis in Egypt’s prisons” owing to conditions failing to meet international standards and the infliction of torture by a variety of Egypt authorities including “police officers, military officers, National Security officers and prison guards.”
To address the human rights abuses, the report included several recommendations including amending Egypt’s national laws to achieve greater consistency with international law and standards.