Third detainee dies in Tora Prison in 3-week span

Amr Abu Khalil, a 58-year-old psychiatrist, died in his prison cell in the Maximum Security 2 wing of the Tora Prison complex less than a year after his arrest, according to his brother Haitham Abu Khalil.

Abu Khalil is at least the third prisoner said to have died inside Tora in the past three weeks. 

Haitham, who works as a journalist at Al-Sharq TV, a channel based in Turkey that is closely , attributed his brother’s death to medical negligence. The Interior Ministry has so far not commented on the case. Over two months ago, Haitham told Human Rights Watch in a report documenting an apparent outbreak of the coronavirus in Egyptian prisons that Abu Khalil was exhibiting symptoms similar to COVID-19, including suffering from difficulty breathing, fever, and fatigue among other symptoms in the last two weeks of June and had pre-existing medical conditions, including diabetes, inflammation of peripheral nerves and a hernia.

In a separate report in November, Human Rights Watch said that Abu Khalil’s family had not been able to deliver medicine or food to him, and said that his arrest was part of a campaign by Egyptian authorities to target the relatives of dissidents abroad. The arrest of Abu Khalil on October 2, 2019, came one day after his brother displayed, in his TV show, photos that he said showed members of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s family at different events, according to Human Rights Watch.

Meanwhile, the family of Ahmed Abdul Nabi, another prisoner being held in the Maximum Security 2 Wing of Tora, announced on September 2 that he had died inside the prison. Abdul Nabi’s two American-Egyptian daughters who live in the US told Human Rights Watch that he had several chronic illnesses, including diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. He also developed kidney stones in prison but was unable to get adequate medical care or be examined by independent doctors, the group said.

According to Human Rights Watch, Abdul Nabi was arrested on December 23, 2018, along with his wife, Raia Abdallah, 62, and their daughter, Yosra Abdelnabi, 24. Abdul Nabi] and Abdallah were forcibly disappeared for almost three weeks before they appeared before the State Security Prosecution. Their daughter was detained at Cairo Airport for 22 days, then released without charge. Abdallah was conditionally released in May 2019 pending trial, according to Human Rights Watch. Abdul Nabi and Abdallah faced charges of belonging to an illegal group.

On August 13, just over two weeks before Abdul Nabi’s death, Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam al-Erian died inside Tora prison, his lawyer, Abdel Moniem Abdel Maqsoud, told Mada Masr at the time. The Interior Ministry did not give a cause of death. Erian had been sentenced to death as well as years in prison in a number of cases.

Human rights organizations have documented numerous cases of medical negligence inside Egyptian prisons. In June 2019, following the death of former president Mohamed Morsi,  ten rights organizations demanded “the International Committee of the Red Cross to be given access to inspect conditions in Egyptian prisons and assess the welfare of prisoners, to be followed by a public report on prison conditions with recommendations.”

In March 2016, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights issued a report that found that the deterioration in conditions was unprecedented. “Inmates do not have access to the most basic health and hygiene,” the report said. “In some cases, conditions have approached those in medieval times, when maltreatment, torture, deprivation of food, and healthcare were typical characteristics of life in prison.”

Amid the spread of the coronavirus several human rights groups called on Egyptian authorities to release all political prisoners and prisoners being held in remand detention. Instead, the Interior Ministry banned all prison visits in early March as part of its policies to curb the spread of COVID-19. After nearly four months of no prison visitations, they were resumed late last month with greater restrictions.

Last March, Amnesty International called on Egyptian authorities to release all activists and human rights defenders amid rising fears over the spread of coronavirus in Egyptian prisons.

“Given well-documented concerns that Egyptian prisons are overcrowded and suffer from poor health care and hygiene and sanitation conditions, the authorities should consider releasing detainees held in pre-trial detention, as well detainees who are especially vulnerable to the disease, such as those with underlying medical conditions and the elderly,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement. “The authorities have a duty to ensure that all those in custody are provided with adequate medical care.”

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