The Ministry of Transitional Justice amended the law organising the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights’ (NCHR) work in favour of empowering its members’ legal authorities.
NCHR members will be allowed to visit prisons with prior notification, rather than through Ministry of Interior authorisation, as the case has been previously. Moreover, it is forbidden by law to interrupt or assault any NCHR member, and the law guarantees them a certain degree of “legal immunity”.
This comes nearly a week after NCHR president Mohamed Fayek met with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and presented him with a report on the human rights’ condition of prisoners and detainees.
The council will start by visiting Tora Prison in Cairo on 25 May, said doctor and member of the council Salah Salam, Monday. The plan also includes the prisons of El-Qanater, Al-Marg, Damanhour and Abu Za’abal.
Those prisons have a reputation of putting prisoners through harsh conditions, lacking basic health facilities, having ‘inhumane’ prison cells, alongside beatings and other forms of physical assaults on the detained.
Last Saturday, a report by human rights lawyer Mokhtar Mounir from the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) said: “Prisoners of Tora prison sent a letter saying students were beaten with belts and severely assaulted while taking their exams. Two were sent to disciplinary confinement, while the supervisor on students, a law professor, was also beaten.”
The NCHR has been conducting efforts with the state to amend the prison law and improve prisoners’ conditions, despite many doubting its authenticity.
However, the council’s last report took an aggressive tone towards the Ministry of Interior’s prison practices, and stated that beatings and inhumane conditions were characteristic of Abu Za’abal Prison, which the council visited in March to investigate torture allegations.
Sallam, who participated in the visit and examined prisoners who claimed to have been beaten, confirmed the incidents, and confronted the former Interior Ministry deputy for the Human Rights Department on television, when the latter denied the accusations.
Investigations into such allegations are orders that come directly from the Prosecutor General’s office, but barely any investigation in such matters have taken place, despite hundreds of official and unofficial complaints, and increased reports on death tolls in prisons and police stations due to violence.
In a rare case, Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat put on trial two National Security officers accused of beating lawyer Karim Hamdi to death in Matariya police station.
The NCHR has also sent different proposals to amend prison laws and regulations, including the abolishment of “disciplinary confinements” as punishment, and more regulations for pre-trial detention.
Last September, the NCHR announced that it has successfully agreed with the interior ministry to change the regulations regarding the prisoners’ health examination system. The deal that was concluded was that prison doctors should be entitled to issue decisions if a patient needs to seek medical care in an external hospital, instead of requiring prison authorities’ approval.
Nonetheless, previously detained photojournalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada told Daily News in earlier previous interview that prison doctors were compliant with prison authorities against prisoners. He added that leisure time, as stated in prison regulations, was often not applied.
For his part, Sallam said he did not have information on the non-application of the deal or vice-versa. “But we must keep speaking out: us, as a human rights’ council and you, as journalists. The more the pressure, the better,” he stated.