During a videoconference meeting of the executive committee of the Arab Public Prosecutor’s Association on Wednesday, Prosecutor General Hamada al-Sawy claimed that Egyptian authorities have taken all necessary precautions to protect detainees from the spread of the coronavirus.
Yet the measures have effectively cut off families from any communication with detainees, prevented them from sending food and medicine to their loved ones, and even barred prisoners and their lawyers from attending routine detention renewal sessions.
Among the most high profile prisoners protesting the restrictive measures is software developer and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, who launched a hunger strike on April 12. Abd El Fattah has been held inside the Maximum Security Wing 2 of Tora Prison Complex since September, when National Security agents arrested him from the Dokki police station where he was forced to spend 12 hours every night as part of a five-year probationary sentence. He has been held in remand detention ever since.
Over the past few weeks, judges have renewed the detention orders for hundreds of prisoners held in remand detention, including Abd El Fattah, even though they or their lawyers have been prevented from attending the court sessions. Earlier this month, rights lawyer Khaled Ali filed a complaint with the Public Prosecution and the Supreme Judicial Council challenging the legality of issuing detention renewal orders in the absence of the defendants or their legal counsel.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Sawy said that the prosecution is working on setting up a system whereby detainees would be able to attend detention renewal sessions by videoconference in order to reduce physical contact amid the pandemic.
The same justification was given by the Interior Ministry on March 10 when it canceled all prison visitations. While Abd El Fattah’s family has been unable to communicate with him for over two months, they were finally permitted to view an official report on April 28 sent from the prison to the prosecutor’s office documenting his hunger strike. He told officials he is on hunger strike in protest his continued imprisonment after the end of his 45-day detention period without attending a hearing to review his detention
“I call for my immediate release as my detention order ceases to apply, and due to the necessity of my presence alongside my family,” Abd El Fattah stated, according to the report.
For the past several weeks, Abd El Fattah’s mother and sister have gone to Tora every day with supplies — including vitamins, herbal beverages, rehydration solution, disinfectants and hygienic materials — yet prison authorities have repeatedly refused to allow any items inside.
On Tuesday, the family says they received word that the National Security Agency had explicitly ordered prison authorities not to allow any items in for Abd El Fattah. “There is no such thing as this,” Abd El Fattah’s mother, Laila Soueif, told Mada Masr in a telephone interview as she stood outside the prison for the 32nd consecutive day.
Over the course of his imprisonment for the past eight months in Tora’s Maximum Security Wing 2, Abd El Fattah has been denied access to fresh air, exercise, books or newspapers. His family has filed repeated legal complaints in an attempt to force prison authorities to adhere to the prison’s own bylaws; and Soueif says they will also not give up trying to bring him supplies. “We are going to keep coming every day,” she said.
At least two other detainees are on hunger strike to protest their prison conditions. Mohamed Amashah, an Egyptian-American student who has been held in remand detention for over a year, went on a hunger strike in March to call attention to his plight. He suffers from asthma and an autoimmune disease and fears the spread of the coronavirus in prison, according to Reuters. He has been transferred to the prison’s hospital.
Meanwhile, Hamed Seddiq, who is also being held in Maximum Security Wing 2 of Tora, has been on a partial hunger strike since April 18.