‘Prisons of Death’: Egyptians Protest Systematic Denial of Medical Care to Detainees

Published August 30th, 2017 - 11:37 GMT
Khaled Sahloub, a journalist detained in al-Aqrab prison, suffers from medical problems (Twitter)
Khaled Sahloub, a journalist detained in al-Aqrab prison, suffers from medical problems (Twitter)

“Prisons of death” is trending in Egypt, as Twitter calls out what appears to be the systematic denial of medical treatment to detainees.

“‘Prisons of death’ are the result of medical negligence” writes @LoveAlimero640, while @X4foiAqxYa74Mxj asks “Those ill with liver [disease], cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, lung infections, why are you imprisoning them?”

The hashtag comes as reports emerged that Al Jazeera journalist, Mahmoud Hussein, is being denied access to medical care at Tora prison, where he has been held without trial for eight months.

An Al Jazeera colleague, Meriem Belalia, tweeted on August 25:

“The administration of Tora Prison refuses to send my colleague Mahmoud Hussein, who has been detained for eight months, to hospital, despite the fact that his left arm needs surgical intervention #Freedom_to_Mahmoud_Hussein #AlJazeera”

Al Jazeera reported that the Egyptian authorities were refusing to send the father of nine to hospital to receive treatment for a fracture in his arm. This despite the Qatari network’s promises to pay for the costs.

Hussein is charged with “disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities in order to defame the state's reputation.”

In a separate case, earlier this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Egyptian authorities to grant adequate medical attention to another journalist, Hisham Gaafar. The director of a private media company, Gaafar requires treatment for his deteriorating eyesight and other health complaints.

“Egypt’s Interior Ministry has shown contempt for Hisham Gaafar’s health and well-being,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“The fact that the Interior Ministry refuses to provide him his rightful care is a sad testament to Egyptian authorities’ disregard for detainees’ most basic rights.”

Gaafar was arrested in October 2015 on charges of Muslim Brotherhood membership and illegally receiving foreign funds.

Like Hussein, he has not yet received a trial - pre-trial detention can last up to two years under Egyptian law, although Amnesty International reported that in 2016 more than 1,400 individuals were held beyond that limit.

Gaafar is being held at the high-security Scorpion prison, which HRW reports does not have adequate amounts of medicines and vitamins for prisoners. A 2016 HRW report on the prison revealed that officers had prevented food and medicine deliveries, as well as medical care, which “may have contributed to prisoners’ deaths”.

Using the hashtag, "prisons of death" the Twitter account @freedom202010 tweeted several similar cases of Egyptian prisoners being forced to go without necessary medical treatment.

Khaled Sahloub last year carried out a months-long hunger strike to protest mistreatment at al-Aqrab prison, where he is being held, including lack of access to medical treatment.

According to Daily News Egypt, Sahloub is a journalist at Rassd News Network, and was arrested in January 2014 on terrorism charges.

In August 2016, Sahloub was suffering from “a stomach ulcer, low blood pressure, and pains in his bones,” the same report indicated.

It was not possible to find any further details about Ahmad Fahmi or his situation. Tiran and Sanafir are two Red Sea islands transfered to Saudi control in a controversial deal. A number of journalists who spoke out against the transfer were dismissed or arrested.

In its 2016 country report for Egypt, Amnesty International claimed that “security officials subjected detainees to beatings and ill-treatment upon arrest.”

The report added that “Egyptian human rights groups documented dozens of reports of deaths in custody due to torture and other ill-treatment and inadequate access to medical care.”

In 2015, HRW reported that many were thought to have died in Egyptian police custody the previous year as a result of inadequate medical care, as well as “life-threatening” conditions of detention.

The rights organization also accused the authorities of pressurizing hospitals not to admit unwell prisoners, or to release them quickly, in some cases preventing follow-up treatment.

This, despite Egyptian law guaranteeing prisoners the same medical treatment as ordinary citizens.

Under the rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, critics and opponents of the government face arbitrary arrest and detention, usually justified by charges of “terrorism”, inciting protests or Muslim Brotherhood membership. Many journalists are among those detained, raising growing concerns about press freedom in Egypt.

The following chart, shared on Twitter, claims to represent “cases of medical negligence at [Alexandria’s] Burj al-Arab prison”, although a source for the data is not given. Among the 109 cases shown, 33 relate to abdominal problems and 30 to issues relating to bones. Twelve are chest complaints and 8 relate to the heart.

Death awaits many prisoners because of medical negligence… how far will it go?

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