Ola Al-Qaradawi and her husband Hosam Khalaf, both in their 50s, were arrested at their vacation home in Alexandria on 30 June 2017, allegedly for their affiliation with the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization and for terrorist activities.
Ms. Al-Qaradawi is the daughter of Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, a leading Islamic scholar and member of the outlawed group, who lives in exile in Qatar.
She has been held in solitary confinement “in one of the worst prisons in Egypt”, the UN human rights office said on Tuesday. Her husband is being held in similar conditions in a different prison, according to media reports.
Ms. Al-Qaradawi has been denied visits from her family and lawyers, and recently began a hunger strike in protest.
“We understand that Ola Al-Qaradawi’s health is frail and deteriorating and urge the authorities to ensure that her right to health and to physical and psychological integrity is respected,” Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the UN human rights office, told journalists in Geneva.
“We call on Egypt to release all those arbitrarily detained in the country unconditionally.”
In June, a UN-mandated body issued a decision determining that Ms. Al-Qaradawi and her husband had been arbitrarily arrested, and called for their immediate release.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also determined that repeated renewals of 45-day detention orders against them resulted in ongoing violations of their rights to fair trial and due process.
Furthermore, Ms. Al-Qaradawi’s prolonged solitary confinement could also amount to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The decision stated that “The Working Group cannot but conclude that Ms. al-Qaradawi and Mr. Khalaf have been arrested and detained for their family ties with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. This is the only plausible explanation for the subversion of the equal protection of the law they experienced”.
Published on UN News Center on July 3, 2018
The continued appalling treatment of Gehad el-Haddad in the notorious al-Aqrab prison is cruel, inhuman and unacceptable, said Amnesty International today, in response to fresh information that prison authorities have confiscated his wheelchair and other belongings and moved him back to solitary confinement after spending a month in Liman Tora prison awaiting medical treatment which he did not receive.
“Amnesty International is deeply concerned about Gehad el-Haddad’s deteriorating health and the abusive conditions in which he is being held. The inhumane conditions Gehad has been subjected to since his detention in 2013, including prolonged solitary confinement, have resulted in much of his ongoing suffering, pain and the need for a wheelchair. When he arrived in prison he was a healthy man in his early 30’s. Now he can’t move to perform ablutions or use the bathroom without help,” Said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.
“The first time I saw Hisham after his arrest was in the hospital. He described his solitary cell to me. He could not see anything in the darkness of the cell. It was hard for him to breathe there was no window or source of air. He said it felt like being buried alive. When the prison guards finally moved him from the cell, it felt like being reborn. But after just a few months in the prison’s hospital, he was put back into solitary confinement again.”Said Manar el-Tantawie, Hisham Gaafar`s wife who has been held in solitary confinement in al-Aqrab Prison.
New research by Amnesty International reveals that prisoners detained on politically motivated charges are being held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement in Egypt – at times for several years – which in and of itself amounts to torture. They are locked in their cells for 24 hours for weeks at end, denied any human contact and kept in horrific cell conditions.
Crushing humanity: the abuse of solitary confinement in Egypt’s prisons reveals that dozens of detained human rights activists, journalists and members of the opposition held in solitary confinement are being targeted with horrendous physical abuse, including beatings by prison guards and having their heads repeatedly dunked into a container by human excrement. The intentional mental and physical suffering being inflicted on them, results in panic attacks, paranoia, hypersensitivity to stimuli, and difficulties with concentration and memory.
“Under international law, solitary confinement may only be used as a disciplinary measure of last resort, but the Egyptian authorities are using it as a horrifying ‘extra’ punishment for political prisoners – meted out in a ruthless and arbitrary manner designed to crush their humanity and eliminate their hope in any a better future,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.
“Prison conditions in Egypt have always been bad but the deliberate cruelty of this treatment shows the wider contempt for human rights and dignity by the Egyptian authorities.”
Amnesty International has documented 36 cases of prisoners being held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement six of them are unlawfully isolated from the outside world since 2013.
On 3 May 2018, the Egyptian authorities sent a letter to Amnesty International responding to the findings of the report that were sent to them before the launch. The authorities argued that placing prisoners in individual cells does not amount to solitary confinement prohibited by International Human Rights Law and that accommodating prisoners in these cells is related to the design of many prisons in Egypt and has nothing to do with punishing prisoners for their political backgrounds. However, the authorities` explanation does not justify confining prisoners to their “individual cells” for more than 22 hours a day for a duration that exceeds 15 days, which is the core definition of prolonged solitary confinement that amounts to torture or other ill-treatment.
Former prisoners interviewed by the organization described being beaten by prison officials for extended periods, then being held in restricted spaces, alone, for weeks on end. Six prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for over four years.
Prisoners also receive insufficient food and water and inadequate sanitation and bedding. Former prisoners who spent a long time in solitary confinement told Amnesty International that such experience has had a fundamental effect on them psychologically. They suffer depression, insomnia and an unwillingness to socialise or speak to other people when released back into the prison population.
Those targeted also include members of a range of opposition political parties and movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the 6 April Youth Movement.
All documented cases followed a pattern of confinement for more than 22 hours a day, with between 30 minutes and an hour of exercise daily. Contact with other prisoners was not permitted, prisoners denied family visits on regular basis and one prisoner has not received a single visit since October 2016. Prisoners also were not told when their solitary confinement would end, leaving them with no hope of an end in sight.
Solitary confinement is at times used to discipline prisoners who complain of ill-treatment, as well as those caught sending letters communicating poor prison conditions.
In some cases, the practice has been employed to coerce confessions from those detained on trumped up charges. In most cases however, Amnesty International found that there are groups of prisoners held in solitary confinement indefinitely purely because of their past political activism.
“Egyptian prison officials are unlawfully applying solitary confinement as a means of stamping out dissent or any perceived misconduct from prisoners, many of whom have been imprisoned on spurious charges in the first place,” said Najia Bounaim.
“Not only are Egyptian human rights defenders, journalists and members of the opposition being targeted for peacefully expressing their views in the outside world; their persecution also continues behind bars.”
Amnesty International conducted 91 interviews with nine former prisoners and with the family members of 27 individuals who are still imprisoned. The interviews were carried out between March 2017 and April 2018.
Amnesty International submitted a memorandum containing a summary of this research to the Egyptian authorities on 16 April.
“The utter indifference shown for the psychological suffering prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement inflicts on human beings already being punished with imprisonment, often just for their political beliefs, is a demonstration of the brutality that permeates many Egyptian institutions today,” said Najia Bounaim.
Since the replacement of former President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013 by President Abdelfattah al-Sisi, who is now serving a second term, the Egyptian authorities have rounded up tens of thousands of individuals on politically motivated charges.
Solitary confinement is a common practice in all Egyptian prisons. However, Amnesty International focused this report on the experiences of prisoners detained for political reasons because research showed that solitary confinement for these types of prisoners was more likely to be prolonged and indefinite.
14 prisons in seven different governorates in Egypt were examined in this report including Liman Tora Prison, Tora Investigation Prison, Tora Maximum Security Prison 1 (more commonly known as al-Aqrab, or the Scorpion Prison). 20 prisoners of the 36 documented in the report have been held in prolonged solitary confinement in Tora Complex Prisons.
These prisons are located in governorates where security forces have arrested and detained thousands of individuals on politically motivated charges
Published on AI on May 7, 2018
Egyptian authorities have unlawfully prevented former President Mohamed Morsy from contacting or receiving visits from his family and lawyers in the years since the military forcibly removed him from power in July 2013, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 4, 2017, Egyptian authorities allowed Morsy to receive visits from his family and lawyer for only the second time in nearly four years.
These conditions undermine Morsy’s right to mount a legal challenge to his detention and a defense against the many prosecutions filed against him and may have contributed to a decline in his health. During the first week of June, Morsy fainted twice and experienced a diabetic coma, his family told Human Rights Watch.
“Egyptian authorities appear to have seriously violated former President Morsy’s due process rights and may be interfering in his proper medical treatment,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Morsy’s treatment is a window into the appalling conditions suffered by thousands of political detainees in Egypt.”
During a court hearing on June 12, Morsy told the presiding judge that he would like to meet with his defense team to brief them on what he has been “exposed to” in prison and how it has affected his life, according to an account of the hearing published in the newspaper al-Shorouk. Morsy characterized his treatment as “crimes” that have had a “direct effect” on his life, including fainting on June 5 and 6, the newspaper reported. The court also read an official medical report from prison doctors, which stated that Morsy’s health is good but that he has diabetes.
A family member told Human Rights Watch that the authorities had allowed Morsy’s wife and daughter to see him for 30 minutes on June 4, but barred his four sons and other relatives from visiting. Morsy’s only previous visit with his family was in November 2013. On June 4, authorities also allowed Abd al-Moniem Abd al-Maqsoud, a member of Morsy’s legal defense team, to meet with Morsy for 10 minutes, the first time Morsy had received visit from a lawyer since January 2015.
Both meetings were in al-Molhaq Prison, part of the Tora Prisons Area in Cairo. There was no glass barrier separating Morsy from his family, as is usually the case in such visits, but a member of a security agency, whom the family member declined to name, was present.
The relative said that Morsy told his lawyer that he wanted to meet with his entire defense team to discuss “serious issues concerning his life” and that he would only raise these issues in public before a judge, the family member said.
On June 8, Morsy’s defense team filed a complaint to the prosecutor general saying that Morsy’s life could be in danger and asking to transfer him to a private health facility for examination. They also asked to meet with him again.
The relative said that, in the June 4 visit, Morsy appeared to be in “good but not excellent” health but that the former president, now 68, had lost considerable weight. Three days later, during a scheduled hearing in the retrial of a case in which Morsy is accused of participating in mass prison breaks during the 2011 uprising, the court refused to allow Morsy to speak. His relative said the family received information about his fainting and diabetic coma from other prisoners who were held near Morsy in the courtroom that day. Morsy told them he feared for his life and had started abstaining from eating anything but canned food, the family member said.
In August 2015, on one of the few occasions Morsy was allowed to speak before a court, he raised similar health concerns and asked to be examined by a private health facility, given his age, detention, and diabetes, but the government has never allowed it. During that same hearing, Morsy said he had on multiple occasions refused prison food that if eaten “would have led to a crime.”
His relative told Human Rights Watch that a prison nurse or doctor usually checks Morsy’s blood pressure and sugar level every few days but provides no other health care. The relative added that the authorities have never allowed the family to deliver any food or medicine – as most relatives of prisoners can do to supplement the often dangerously meager provisions in Egyptian prisons – and that Morsy had been buying his own insulin using money deposited by his family. The authorities have also denied Morsy any access to newspapers, television, and phone calls, the relative said.
After the military, under then-Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, arrested Morsy and deposed his government on July 3, 2013, it held him incommunicado without charge or judicial process for 23 days. Officially, his imprisonment began on July 26, 2013, when the authorities announced an investigation against him, but they did not transfer Morsy to a legal detention site – Borg al-Arab Prison in Alexandria – until November 4, 2013, for his first court appearance.
On July 22, 2013, after the authorities had begun using deadly force to disperse mass sit-ins opposing Morsy’s removal, the European Union called on the interim government led by then-President Adly Mansour to release Morsy to help de-escalate the situation. The government did not release him. On July 30, Catherine Ashton, then the EU foreign policy chief, was able to meet with Morsy in detention. An African Union delegation met with Morsy for one hour the following day. The authorities allowed Morsy one phone call, in October 2013, and allowed his family to visit once after moving him to Borg al-Arab Prison.
In December 2016, authorities arrested Morsy’s son Osama, who faces charges alongside hundreds of other defendants in the main trial stemming from the government’s deadly August 14, 2013, dispersal of a mass sit-in in Cairo’s Rab’a al-Adawiya Square opposing Morsy’s removal. Osama and the other defendants, many of whom were protesting at Rab’a square, are accused of blocking roads, belonging to a banned group and attempted murder. The authorities moved Osama to “Scorpion” Maximum Security Prison, also in the Tora complex, and have not allowed the family or lawyers to visit him.
Since his ouster, Morsy has faced five separate trials on charges that include conspiring with Hamas and Hezbollah, committing espionage by leaking state secrets to Qatar, insulting the judiciary, and orchestrating the deadly dispersal of opposition protesters outside his presidential palace in 2012.
Previous Human Rights Watch reviews of the presidential palace clashes, prison breaks, and conspiracy trials found that all were compromised by serious due process violations and appeared politically motivated. The prosecution case file summary in the prison breaks and conspiracy cases, which were tried together, showed no evidence that prosecutors sought to establish individual criminal liability. In the presidential palace clashes case, prosecutors rested their theory of Morsy’s responsibility for the deaths of protesters solely on the basis of his relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood.
In June 2015, a court sentenced Morsy to death in the prison breaks case and to life in prison in the conspiracy case. In June 2016, a separate court sentenced Morsy to life in prison in the espionage case. All of these verdicts have been overturned on appeal, and the cases are being retried. His 20-year sentence in the presidential palace clashes case was upheld on appeal, and he remains on trial in the case involving alleged insults to the judiciary.
Prisoners have the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health guaranteed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Egypt ratified in 1982. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has affirmed that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, also ratified by Egypt in 1982, requires governments to provide “adequate medical care during detention.”
The Committee Against Torture, the monitoring body of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – ratified by Egypt in 1986 – has found that failure to provide adequate medical care can violate the treaty’s prohibition of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
In 2016, Human Rights Watch found that the authorities’ treatment of prisoners held in Scorpion Prison, where many prominent opposition and Muslim Brotherhood political figures have been held since 2013, violated a host of protections afforded to detainees.
“Egypt should stop this cruel retaliation against Morsy and his family,” Stork said. “As with all detainees, Morsy’s rights should be fully respected and guaranteed.”
Published on HRW on June 19, 2017.