The Press Syndicate submitted a complaint Saturday morning to the general prosecutor and minister of interior regarding the deteriorated living and health conditions of journalists serving sentences in Al-Aqrab prison.
The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) started a campaign on Friday demanding the closure of Al-Aqrab prison.
This came following an open letter submitted Thursday night by the wives of nine detained journalists to the Press Syndicate, noting that the journalists are subjected inhumane violations inside their prison cells. This pushed the prisoners to start a hunger strike against mistreatment and poor living conditions in the prison.
The wives demanded to transfer their complaints to prosecutor and to organise an urgent assembly meeting at the syndicate’s headquarters to discuss their husbands’ situation inside the prison. The syndicate decided to hold the assembly on 4 March.
However according to state media, the Ministry of Interior sent a medical convey to Al-Aqrab Friday comprised of doctors from various medical specialties and necessary medicines for 120 prisoners.
ECRF launched a hashtag called #Close_Al-Aqrab addressing the world to rouse solidarity and UN charter to deal with prisoners, describing the violation happening inside the prison a crime against humanity.
“What is happening in Al-Aqrab prison is no less horrifying than what is happening in the prisons of Guntanmo in the US, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and Bagram in Afghanistan,” according to ECRF.
The wives reported detailed violations against their husbands in detention places, including lack of ventilation inside prison cells, solitary confinement, and lack of food and medicines, increasing prices of canteens although it is the only place where prisoners can get food as the administration does not allow entrance of food from visitors.
The wives said the visitation times are often closed for months, and when it is open only about 30 to 40 people are allowed to enter, which is a very small percentage. This led to families, including senior people and children, to sleep in front of the prison so they can enter in the early morning. However they rarely manage to secure a visit.
The letter explained that fungus spread due to the lack of ventilation inside the prison cells. However Al-Aqrab administration allows little medical treatment and often prevents it.
Despite the fact that within the prison walls the temperature is less than five degrees celsius, no blankets, warm clothes, or hot water are offered to the prisoners. The wives said Al-Aqrab prisoners drink water in unclean plastic cups, the letter read. According ECRF, 28 people died in 2015 due to poor living standards and deteriorated health condition inside the prison.
Since late 2015, families issued several complaints about the mistreatment and torture of inmates in Al-Aqrab Prison. Dozens of detainees’ families gathered in front of the Press Syndicate to protest the treatment of the prisoners and demanded that the ministry allow winter clothing and visits. The ministry further denied all complaints from detainees’ families.
The Press Syndicate has previously sent several complaints to the general prosecutor and minister of interior, demanding they cease violations against detained journalists. According to head of the syndicate, any improvements were short-lived.
The Ministry of Interior’s statement on Al-Aqrab prison always reports stable conditions, contradicting the families’ and prisoners’ complaints. The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) usually aligns with ministry statements despite receiving the families’ complaints.
On 15 February, families of Al-Aqrab prison inmates were attacked in front of the visiting hall while they were waiting to visit their detained relatives.
Built in 1993 under the reign of notorious former minister of interior Habib Al-Adly, Al-Aqrab Prison hosted many political prisoners and high-profile inmates accused of being involved in terrorist activities. It continued to be used to host defendants accused of violence and terrorism. The majority of the detainees are accused of joining terrorist or militant groups. Activists call the prison “Egypt’s Guantanamo”, due to the allegedly harsh treatment inmates receive.