A delegation from the state-funded National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) visited the high-security prison of Al-Aqrab (Scorpion) in Tora on Wednesday, claiming that prison authorities limited them during the visit.
In a press statement, NCHR said delegation members were denied requests to sit with a number of prisoners after receiving complaints from their families, under the pretext that those detainees had been transferred to the prison hospital, and that the delegation had not obtained permits to visit the hospital.
“As long as we have to obtain permission [from the Ministry of Interior] before inspecting prisons, those visits are useless,” said George Ishaak, a member of the delegation, which also included Manal Al-Tiby and Salah Sallam.
The NCHR said that some prisoners refused to meet them, allegedly “rejecting their interference between them and the prison authorities,” or so they were told by prison authorities. Among them was journalist Hassan El-Kabbani. Detained in January 2015, the pro-Muslim Brotherhood reporter’s wife had complained of restricted visits, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in 2015.
“But for instance, I wanted to visit journalist Hisham Gaafar and was told he refused to see me. As it turns out, he did not refuse but he wasn’t there as he was attending a session on his detention renewal,” Ishaak told Daily News Egypt on Thursday.
Gaafar had been detained since October 2015 on accusations of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood organisation.
Moreover, NCHR said it met with Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Ali Beshr and two others who said they were well-treated, granted exercise hours, and regular family visits.
The delegation also met with one prisoner suffering from a heart condition, who claimed to have had strokes prior to his imprisonment, and expressed concern over facing an emergency and not being quickly assisted. NCHR demanded that medical tests be conducted on him as soon as possible and that results be communicated to them.
Ishaak said it took the Interior Ministry three months to approve their visit since they filed a request.
The visit follows a report issued in September by Human Rights Watch (HRW) which shed light on the difficult detention conditions in Al-Aqrab.
HRW denounced practices, such as visitation bans, poor prison conditions, and physical and mental abuse. “The poor conditions in Scorpion led some detainees to begin a hunger strike in February 2016, and by the following month, at least 57 inmates had joined, according to one of their relatives. Government authorities responded by threatening some of those inmates with violence, and security forces in the prison assaulted others,” it said.
“NCHR inquired about the mentioned inmates in the report, mainly those demanding medical care, and found that they have received it,” Ishaak stated, adding that although he found some exaggerations in the report, he believes such reports and inspection visits do push the ministry to fix some problems.