Authorities from Borg al-Arab Prison in Alexandria governorate began the process of moving 300 political prisoners to Gamasa Prison in Daqahlia and Minya Prison on Wednesday.
This follows the relocation of another 250 political detainees from Borg al-Arab Prison to Daqahlia and Minya over the last few days, and the anticipated move of a further 250 prisoners, according to their relatives, who say a prison warden at Borg al-Arab informed them that 800 detainees would be relocated in total.
The move comes after protests in Borg al-Arab Prison, which resulted in prison authorities preventing the majority of family visits. Eyewitnesses told Mada Masr most of the prisoners who were relocated are being detained in political cases and some are still awaiting trial.
The wife of one of the detainees being transferred, whose name is being withheld at her request, told Mada Masr that Central Security Forces attacked family members as they waited outside the prison on Wednesday.
The crisis began on Sunday, according to families. Hend al-Qahwagi, the sister of Loaiy al-Qahwagi, and wife of Amr Atef, both of whom are imprisoned in Borg al-Arab, says she was kept waiting for two hours on Sunday while attempting to visit her husband. The prison administration also denied detainees their allotted daily exercise and recreation, she adds.
Another relative, speaking on condition of anonymity, says her husband told her that a prison officer, Amr Omar, threatened an inmate that his execution would be expedited and carried out the following day, after a number of detainees on death row at Borg al-Arab Prison requested they be given lavatories in their cells. This request was denied and prison officers reportedly shouted threats at detainees, who were supported by a number of other prisoners chanting from their cells. Prison authorities deployed security forces to put an end to the unrest by firing shots and teargas canisters. They also reportedly denied the injured treatment.
The standoff worsened the next day, according to the sister of one of the detainees, who told Mada Masr that authorities at Borg al-Arab Prison have only allowed around a fifth of detainees’ families to visit since Monday. Those who were permitted entry were subjected to arbitrary inspections and were not allowed to deliver food or supplies to their loved ones. Family members congregated outside the prison and chanted against prison authorities, she adds.
The prison sent female police officers to reassure relatives of detainees’ wellbeing, the prisoner’s sister told Mada Masr, adding that the officers claimed it was the detainees themselves who were refusing to meet with their families.
While waiting outside the prison on Tuesday, family members witnessed several police trucks transporting detainees away. Several of them stood in front of the trucks, demanding to know where they were going. One woman was reportedly hit by a truck, which backed up into the prison afterwards, according to eyewitnesses.
The detainee’s sister says she and a group of relatives went to the district prosecutor’s office in the Manshiya district of Alexandria on Wednesday at 9 am to file an official complaint. They met with the prosecutor at 4 pm, when a small team was dispatched from the prosecutor’s office to Borg al-Arab Prison to announce that family members would be allowed to visit as usual. The relatives showed the district prosecutor pictures of the large numbers of family members who were congregating outside the prison.
Director of the Arab African Center for Liberties and Human Rights, Abdalla al-Naggar, told Mada Masr that families of the detainees filed several complaints with the general prosecutor, who summoned officer Amr Omar to hear his account of events. The prosecutor did not dispatch a team of investigators to the prison, the lawyer says, arguing that the actions of security forces to events in Borg al-Arab Prison represent a clear violation of Article 55 of the Egyptian Constitution, which states that, “Any person who is arrested, detained or whose freedom is restricted in any way, shall be treated in a manner that preserves human dignity, and may not be tortured, terrorized, coerced or physically or morally harmed. Only places that are humanely and hygienically appropriate, and which are made for that purpose, may be used for detention.”
Detainees at Borg al-Arab Prison were subjected to widespread acts of torture in March 2015. The brother of one of the detainees said, “inmates are confined in cramped quarters, and every couple of days they are subjected to surprise inspections, during which they have their blankets burned and their belongings broken.”
A report published by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information regarding prison conditions before and after the 2011 uprising, titled, “There is Room for Everyone,” documents 12 violations of detainees’ rights.
According to the report, the violations begin at the point of arrest, and include investigations without a defense lawyer, preventative detentions that exceed the legally proscribed duration, unlawful detentions in places not designated for such purposes, unhygienic detention conditions, denying detainees their rights to phone calls and visitations, unjustified solitary confinement, lack of cell supplies, discrimination among prisoners, denial of access to healthcare and the detention of minors with adults. The report holds the Interior Ministry and state authorities responsible for these violations.
Translated by Jano Charbel