‘There is room for everyone’ inside Egypt’s prisons: ANHRI

Amira El-Fekki
8 Min Read
Picture released by the Ministry of Interior of the residential cells in prison (Photo from Ministry of Interior’s official Facebook page)

There are 504 detention centres in Egypt, and the number of prisoners in Egypt by mid-August 2016 reached around 106,000 prisoners, including 60,000 political prisoners, according to a new in-depth report released Monday by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

The report entitled “There is room for everyone: Egypt’s prisons before and after the 25 of January Revolution,” aimed at providing statistics that have been difficult to attain amid an information blackout by the state. ANHRI’s director and rights lawyer Gamal Eid and previously detained journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada conducted extensive investigations to extract the number of prisons and prisoners in Egypt.

This comes amid extremely difficult conditions reported from inside prisons, violations of prisoners’ rights, and the continuing increase in number of political detainees.

Prisons, detention facilities, expansions

ANHRI found that before the 25 January Revolution, there were 43 prisons (excluding other detention facilities like 320 police stations and 122 central prisons), and that 19 new prisons were built in the years that followed the revolution. One was built in 2011, four in 2013, four in 2014, six in 2015, and four in 2016.

The state also set new standards for new buildings to maximise security, turning them into heavily-guarded prisons and penitentiaries, equipped with CCTV cameras and armoured, concrete walls.

At a time when the economy is in a dire condition and other important service buildings could have been prioritised─mainly schools and hospitals, many of which are in a dreadful state─the Gamasa General Prison with maximum security alone cost EGP 845m.

“The increase was not just in terms of the frequency of decisions to build more prisons, but it reached the extent of tremendously expanding the capacity of prisons, in a way that two prison complexes, namely Gamasa and Minya, could hold up to 15,000 prisoners each,” ANHRI stated.

“The increase in the number of prisons means an increase in the deprivation of liberty and personal safety for humans,” it added.

Establishing mainly four types of prisons, ANHRI stated the following: there are penitentiaries where men complete their sentences, such as Abu Zaabal, Tora, Borg Al-Arab, Gamasa, and Minya Penitentiary.

The second type are general prisons, which include men and women serving prison terms, such as Banha General Prison, Tanta Prison, Al-Qanater Prison, Qantara General Prison, Gamasa Prison, and Wadi Al-Natroun 1 Prison.

The third type is defined as central prisons where detainees are held in pre-trial custody, or prisoners serve less than three-month terms. However, according to ANHRI, many pre-trial detainees are held in general prisons instead, “either due to the overcrowding of prisons or due to the fact that the general prisons are located near places of investigation.”

As for women prisons, they include the prisons of Al-Qanater, Damanhour, Port Said, Al-Mansoura, Shebin Al-Kom, Tanta, Assiut, Al-Minya General Prison, and Abo Qerkas Central Prison.

Meanwhile, there are special prisons, established by a presidential decree, which ANHRI said contained “only certain categories of prisoners, not based on the type of penalty,” thus discriminating “between detainees for who they are rather than for the verdicts they receive.”

Other than regular prisons, there are also military prisons, where civilians can be held according to the constitution, as well as places of detention, such as “police stations, centres, or departments, as well as the Criminal Investigation Administrations and their sections wherein prisoners, detainees and those in custody can be held,” ANHRI stated, according to the Ministry of Interior resolution 5/1969.

However, ANHRI clarified that other places of detention that have no legitimate foundation exist, such as the headquarters of the National Security apparatus, camps of the Central Security Forces, or other “secret prisons”.

For the full report, click here.

Violations of prisoners’ rights and ill-treatment

While ANHRI opted for not publishing allegations of ill-treatment in prisons, it rather listed the types of violations committed against prisoners according to the laws that guarantee the rights of detained defendants.

Those infringements of rights start during the arrest process itself, such as citizens getting arrested or detained without being able to contact a family member, then being interrogated without the presence of their lawyers, followed by prolonged pre-trial detentions, not applying the legal visiting duration, or also the detention of minors with adults.

This is in addition to one the controversial issues of detention in unhealthy locations, the denial of medical healthcare, and the penalising solitary confinement, where detainees are held without a penalty, or for a prolonged period of time incompatible with the one stated in the law.

Accurate numbers of violation cases have not been available due to the above-mentioned reason of lack of official transparency. Also, human rights advocates cannot access prisons, with the exception of the state-funded National Council for Human Rights (NCHR).

NCHR conducted several prison visits, but it was often unable to obtain the Interior Ministry’s approval.

In an interview with Al-Araby TV on Sunday, NCHR member George Ishaak confirmed that the state obstructs information on prisoners and their conditions. The number he spoke of was more or less near 40,000, but he said it could have increased or decreased because the number dates a few years back.

“It has been three months since we requested to visit prisons, and two months since the parliamentary Human Rights Committee’s request, but without response,” he stated, adding that police station detentions are more problematic than prisons.

Ishaak further claimed that it is not always possible for prisoners to disclose the violations they were subject to, as there is no space for privacy. Back in March 2015, NCHR conducted a visit to Abu Zaabal prison during the detention of Ziada.

In an interview after his release, Ziada spoke of the threats he faced by prison authorities if he complained to the NCHR delegation. Confirmed in Ishaak’s TV appearance, Ziada further described the beautification of the prison for the sake of a good report by the delegation.

Besides local and international condemnations and pressure of human rights defenders, prisoners have repeatedly gone on hunger strikes in objection to their ill-treatment. For its part, the Interior Ministry has been denying such allegations.


Share This Article
Journalist in DNE's politics section, focusing on human rights, laws and legislations, press freedom, among other local political issues.
1 Comment