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Amnesty slams Egyptian solitary confinement

May 7, 2018

Egypt's solitary confinement of political prisoners, some for weeks, some even years, amounts to "torture," concludes Amnesty International. The London-based group says its findings drew silence from Cairo.

Raised hand behind prison fence
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Nabil

Egypt's military-backed government — which has denied systematic torture in the past — faced Amnesty charges Monday that it was using solitary confinement on dozens held since the overthrow in 2013 of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. 

Solo incarceration amounted to horrifying "extra" punishment, said Amnesty International's North Africa campaigns director Najia Bounaim, adding that jail in Egypt "had always been bad."

Read more: European Court: Torture victims have grounds for asylum

'Dozens' locked away without contact

The dozens shut away without contact during the governance of President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi included detained human rights activists, journalists and members of Egypt's opposition, said Amnesty in its latest report.

"Six prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for over four years" in breach of international law, Amnesty said.

Interviews with family, ex-prisoners

The London-based group said it had documented 36 cases based on interviews with relatives of current inmates and with former prisoners.

"They are locked in their cells for 24 hours for weeks on end, denied any human contact and kept in horrific cell conditions," said Amnesty, referring to some cases while saying other solo inmates were allowed an hour of exercise but were otherwise denied contacts inside prison.

Tora's entrance, with armored vehicle and pedestrians
The exterior of the Tora prison complex near Cairo Image: Getty Images/AFP/G. Guerica

On top of this were abuses ranging from extended beatings to lack of food, humiliation and restricted movement for years on end. Inmates' heads were dunked into human excrement, Amnesty added.

The 14 prisons covered in its report included Liman Tora Prison, Tora Investigation Prison and the Tora Maximum Security Prison 1 - more commonly known as al-Aqrab, or the Scorpion Prison.

Read more: El-Sissi, the new Egyptian strongman

Hypersensitivity, panic attacks

Prolonged confinement  "at times for several years" in itself amounted to "torture," Amnesty said, "resulting in panic attacks, paranoia, hypersensitivity to stimuli, and difficulties with concentration and memory."

It breached international law and when released "back into the prison population" those long shut away were often mute and suffered depression and insomnia.

Solitary confinement was at times used to discipline prisoners who had complained of ill-treatment, "as well as those caught sending letters communicating poor prison conditions," Amnesty said.

Cairo mute

"No response has been received," said Amnesty, to a memorandum summarizing its research, which was sent to Egyptian authorities on 16 April.

Jailed ex-president Morsi partly visible between bars and wire mes
Morsi behind bars at a court appearance in June 2015Image: Reuters/A. A. Dalsh

Morsi himself been held in solitary confinement for most of the last five years, noted The Associated Press in its coverage on Amnesty's report.

Egypt itself has in the past said that enhanced security measures were needed to combat the Islamic State extremist movement and other armed groups that stepped up attacks since 2013.

Rights groups say solitary confinement is widely regarded as a breach of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and 1989 Convention against Torture and Other, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

ipj/ng (AFP, AP)

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