Egypt: Red Cross oversight of prisons demanded by rights groups following Morsi’s death

This article was first published by CIHRS

Medical neglect in prisons a tool of the Sisi government to kill its opponents, Morsi will not be the last victim

The death of former president Mohamed Morsi exposes one of the Egyptian government’s cruelest forms of political retaliation: prolonged medical neglect in prison with the aim of inflicting a slow death upon opponents of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Morsi is not the first and will likely not be the last victim: other prisoners face a similar demise as long as there remains no oversight in Egyptian prisons, enabling systematic and severe violations including torture, the denial of even minimally adequate healthcare, and inhumane prison conditions. The undersigned organizations renew their demand for the International Committee of the Red Cross to be given access to inspect conditions in Egyptian prisons and assess the welfare of prisoners, to be followed by a public report on prison conditions with recommendations. This article was first published by CIHRS

Mohamed Morsi’s death was not unforeseen: nearly one year ago, five Egyptian rights organizations urged the international community to intervene to stop the deliberate, prolonged killing of Morsi and other prisoners, while calling on the Egyptian authorities to honor their legal obligations by providing direly needed healthcare to Morsi and other prisoners.  These appeals went unheeded; several state presidents who met with Mohamed Morsi during his presidency failed to take any action to prevent his predictable death and that of other political prisoners. The undersigned organizations condemn this international inaction; their intervention could have potentially improved the conditions of Morsi’s incarceration, saving him and others from death in Egypt’s prisons.

In the meantime the Egyptian authorities, ignoring the rights organizations’ demands, continued what became, in effect, a slow-motion assassination of the former president while stepping up their smear campaign against the signatory rights organizations and international parties expressing solidarity with it. This zealous, cruel abuse of the former president, despite local and international appeals, is inconceivable to have occurred without the knowledge and consent of the president. Accordingly, the undersigned organizations hold President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi responsible for the death of former President Mohamed Morsi.

One need to look no further than the exemplary, indulgent treatment of former President Hosni Mubarak throughout his incarceration – in stark contrast to the cruel, degrading abuse of Morsi-  to understand that the prison authorities’ conduct toward high-level political prisoners is a political decision made at the highest levels; an assertion collaborated by our close observation of several cases. Death by medical neglect represents a crime to which those overseeing the justice system are culpable; from the president to the legislature to the law enforcement authorities. We demand that the president stop giving the security apparatus the greenlight to assassinate his political opponents- by both direct and indirect means- while state-aligned institutions, including the media, collude to assassinate their character.

Since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi assumed power in 2014, Egyptian prisons have become vast detention camps home to tens of thousands of Sisi’s political opponents, including Islamists, secularists, and even football fans; prisons that in effect operate to punish these often peaceful dissidents through cruel and inhumane practices including torture and willful medical neglect of both chronic health conditions and those newly acquired through appalling and unsanitary prison conditions.[1]  245 prisoners died of medical neglect in 2018, according to a report based on the monitoring of detention facilities; adding to an estimated 650 deaths since mid-2013 that include prominent oppositional figures such as Nubian activist Gamal Sorour and spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Mahdi Akef.

These deliberate, prolonged killings further serve as a warning to political dissidents outside of prison to cease their opposition lest they meet a similar fate. At the same time, their arrests on broad, arbitrary, and largely falsified charges[2] ignore the distinction between violent and peaceful dissidents; rendering it difficult to identify genuine perpetrators of violence and costing the state much of its credibility in its counterterrorism efforts.

The undersigned organizations warn that deaths caused by medical neglect in prison are likely to increase as long as there remains no oversight and accountability in Egyptian prisons. We fear for the life of  Dr. Abdel  Moneim  Aboul-Fotouh, the 67-year-old former presidential candidate and head of the opposition party Strong Egypt, who has been held in solitary confinement since February 2018 despite suffering from severe respiratory problems and four heart attacks in less than three months; the Tora Prison administration has ignored repeated appeals by his family and lawyers to transfer him to intensive care.  Similarly Mohammed al-Qassas – also of the Strong Egypt party and detained since February 2018-  suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, chronic illnesses requiring consistent medical care; care thus far denied by the Tora Prison administration.

Signatory Organizations

  1. Egyptian Front for Human Rights
  2. Egyptian Human Rights Forum
  3. Committee for Justice
  4. The Freedom Initiative
  5. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  6. El Nadeem
  7. Adalah for Rights and Freedoms
  8. Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF)
  9. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
  10. Belady Center for Rights and Freedoms

[1] A rights report, titled “How a Prisoner Is Treated to Death,” has described the tardy response to critical cases, the lack of treatment, and a reliance on painkillers as the most significant paths to a slow death in detention facilities.

[2] Charges such as joining a terrorist or banned group, and engaging or inciting to violence and terrorism