Angry and disappointed reactions continued following the announced results of the National Council for Human Rights’ (NCHR) visit to Al-Aqrab prison last Tuesday.
Several NGOs and rights groups have criticised the delegation’s findings to be merely “beautifying the image of the government”, and a lost opportunity for defending prisoners’ rights.
Three NCHR members, Ragia Omran, George Ishaq and Kamal Abbas, issued a statement Wednesday voicing their criticism of the recent visit and the way it was handled both internally and externally by the organisation.
The statement said that the visit was arranged without all NCHR members knowing about it, especially the members of the Civil and Political Rights Committee. It further explained that prison visits are not supposed to be filmed, and that press conferences are not organised following those visits. In additions, members were notified hours prior to the conference.
The three members believe that conflicting statements from the visiting delegation as well as the contradictory report to the numerous complaints from prisoners’ families undermine the credibility of the council.
Hafez Abu Seada, among the members who conducted the visit, commented on the statement saying that every member retains the right to voice his/her opinion and stance, and the council respects that.
“During the visit, I requested not to be filmed, especially during our talks with the prisoners, as they would feel uncomfortable voicing their complaints while being watched,” Abu Seada stated regarding the filming of the prison visit. “We voiced our objection; however, in any case, the interior ministry is the entity that films the video.”
Abu Seada stated that this was not the first prison visit to be filmed, and that the council was filmed during a Tora Prison visit earlier. Further, the press conference was organised following the visit in order to announce the interior minister’s promises to solve the problems faced by the prisoners, according to Abu Seada.
“NCHR received many complaints from Al-Aqrab prison, so it requested a permission to visit,” Abu Seada explained. “The approval came suddenly and unexpectedly, we were scheduled to visit Abu Za’abal prison during the same date, but we went to Al-Aqrab instead because it’s a chance not to be missed.”
Regarding the draft law organising NCHR’s operation, NCHR member and lawyer Nasser Amin mentioned that the council had submitted a draft law to the drafting committee, however it got rejected. Amin explained that the council needs to move from consulting to executing in order to try to improve prison conditions. However, the government does not want that to happen.
The draft law most importantly allows prison visits to be conducted after notifying prison authorities only and not via a permit. Abu Seada stated that they will present the draft to the parliament once it is formed.
El Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence published its monthly report Tuesday regarding human rights violations inside detention facilities, ranging from murder to torture, medical negligence and enforced disappearances.
On Al-Aqrab, the maximum security Tora Prison, the report recounts testimonies from the families of the detainees, detailing the violations and mistreatment that they suffer. Reported violations include medical negligence, inadequate or lack of nutrition, and the practice of degrading measures like stripping detainees of their clothes.
Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Gamal Eid, described the media coverage of the NCHR’S visit as an attempt to manipulate observers and improve the image of Al-Aqrab prison, which has become known as “Egypt’s Bastille”.
During August, El Nadeem documented 56 deaths inside detention facilities, 57 torture cases, 44 cases of medical negligence and 38 cases of enforced disappearances.
Among the 56 deaths, there were 15 “killed”, four who died as a result of torture, 23 were victims of medical negligence. Additionally, one died of a gunshot fired during a fight with a police officer, 10 were killed by strikes and one whose reason of death remains unknown.
The NCHR has conducted a series of prison visits recently. The council has often been criticised for being biased in favour of authorities.