A group of Al-Azhar University students detained at Qanater women’s prison claimed they were brutally beaten by other inmates and security personnel earlier this week, according to the women’s families.
However, on Thursday the Ministry of Interior’s Prisons Authority denied the allegations of abuse, claiming these were false reports intended to arouse sympathy for the detainees. The authority adheres to the principles of human rights, its statement insisted.
One Al-Azhar University professor and 17 students were arrested during clashes on campus in late December, and have been held in custody ever since. When their families visited the prison on Wednesday, the detainees told them they had been severely assaulted by other prisoners and guards.
The mother of two of the women, Sarah and Alaa Mohamed Abdel Al, told Mada Masr that unusually harsh maximum security measures were implemented during her visit. She asked Mada not to use her name.
A group of female detainees being transferred out of Qanater in a police truck shouted to her as she was waiting to enter the prison, the mother continued. Once she entered the facility to register her name, she and the other families were subject to unusually difficult security clearance procedures, which left her only 10 minutes to see her daughters.
During that short visit, Sarah and Alaa told their mother about the assault. According to the two women, their professor Samah Mohamed had entered into an altercation with a female prison guard, after which the Al-Azhar students rushed to her defense. The guard then allegedly incited other prisoners to beat the detainees in retaliation.
“Most of the girls were beaten on different parts of their bodies. One of them was bleeding, as she was beaten on her womb. Others had their limbs broken. My daughters were beaten on their entire body and were hardly walking,” the mother told Mada Masr.
The guard then ordered riot police to assault the women, while their professor was taken to another room and beaten alone.
The mother also claimed that the women were sexually harassed by other prisoners, and were stripped naked in front of male police guards.
“All of their personal belongings were taken away, and they were given old clothes. My daughters were wearing a very small piece of cloth hardly covering their hair. Even their head scarves were taken away,” she recounted.
Ahmed Nasr, detained student Asmaa Nasr’s brother, made similar allegations, adding that the students were separated from each other in the prison. According to Nasr, pairs of detainees were put in different sections of the facility and shared cells with convicted prisoners, in violation of the law.
“The girls started a hunger strike,” Nasr said, to protest against the inhumane conditions.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Hany Abdel Latif was not available to comment on the allegations.
The Arab Organization for Human Rights in Europe (AOHRE), an Islamist organization that is said to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, was the first to document the case.
In its statement, “No Dignity for the Female Detainees in Egyptian Prisons,” AOHRE said that such practices reveal a systematic trend of violence inside Egyptian prisons toward political detainees. The group has documented similar cases against other female detainees, the statement added.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s press office in London also released an official statement on Thursday condemning the alleged violence.
“The Muslim Brotherhood Press Office demands the freedom of all students, and calls on human rights organizations to intervene quickly to stop the torture of female detainees in Qanater prison,” the statement read. “We call for an extensive investigation on the torture of the girls, so the perpetrators are held accountable and brought to justice immediately.”