Hundreds of prisoners at Tora Reception prison in Cairo have been protesting since Friday due to grave mistreatment in the past two weeks, according to two sources who spoke to Mada Masr, one of whom is a human rights lawyer who has been following the events.
While the Interior Ministry has not issued a statement on the protests, the two sources said that an inspection unit from the ministry has carried out a security campaign in at least four prison wards over the past two weeks, confiscating all of the prisoners’ personal belongings, leaving only two blankets and two prison uniforms for each inmate. Prisoners have also been deprived of outdoor activities and the right to use their commissary accounts — money the prison administration holds and allows prisoners to spend. The prisoner cafeteria and clinics have also been shut down. At least two prisoners were transferred to disciplinary cells after being physically attacked and stripped of their clothing by prison security because they protested against the clampdown.
As the intensive search and confiscation campaign continued through Friday, prisoners started chanting and banging on the doors of their cells, before some of them escalated their protest on Sunday by refusing to eat the food provided by the prison administration, the two sources told Mada Masr.
The human rights lawyer estimated that about 70 percent of the prison’s inmates are refusing to take the food provided by the prison, even though most of them had relied on the administration’s food over the past months due to the reduction of visits and the temporary refusal to admit any food from the prisoners’ families.
Tora Reception, one of eight prisons in the Tora prison complex, houses defendants being investigated in ongoing cases and those standing trial.
On March 10, the Interior Ministry banned prison visits as part of the precautionary measures taken to curb the COVID-19 outbreak. Visits were resumed on August 22, with each prisoner being allowed one visit per month.
The second source, who is familiar with the specifics of what is happening inside Tora Reception, told Mada Masr that the campaign started on September 29 and is linked to the killing of four police officers in the maximum security prison known as Aqrab, or Scorpion Prison, in the Tora prison complex, in addition to the killing of four prisoners who were on death row on September 23, in what an anonymous security source told Al-Masry Al-Youm was an attempt to escape from the prison.
According to the second source, the security campaign targeted between September 29 and October 9 the B and D wards in Aqrab Prison, both of which include prisoners accused of being Islamic State or Muslim Brotherhood members and others convicted in criminal cases.
During the campaign, an armed force entered prisoners’ cells and escorted all the inmates outside, forced them to squat facing the wall, and tied their hands behind their backs until the raid was over. All of the prisoners’ cooking utensils, stoves, water storage buckets and clothes were confiscated, according to the two sources.
The second source familiar with what is happening inside Tora said that on October 7, while one of the cells was being searched, a prisoner tried to speak with the main officer, but soon the conversation became heated and the prison security began attacking the prisoner using rods and tasers. When another prisoner tried to stop them, he was also assaulted. Both of them were sent to a disciplinary cell after the guard stripped them down to their undergarments.
On Friday, with the clampdown still ongoing, the rest of the prisoners in Tora Reception started protesting, chanting and banging on the doors of their cells, prompting the prison inspection forces to retreat from the ward. But the prison administration in turn prevented the entry of ice to preserve food items brought in during family visits, and it also cut off the water supply to the wards except for a brief time each day.
On Sunday, when the prison inspection forces reentered the prison, a large number of prisoners decided to escalate their protest and refused to receive the prison-administered food while continuing to chant and bang on the doors of their cells.
According to the human rights lawyer, prisoners are demanding a rollback of measures imposed during the crackdown: the return of outdoor activities, the reopening of the cafeteria and clinics, permission to use the money deposited in their accounts and the return of their personal belongings that were confiscated during the raid. They also want the prosecution to listen to prisoners’ statements, sign off on a medical examination for the two prisoners who were assaulted and hold those who attacked them responsible.
The second source said that similar security measures have been taken in prisons before, but they have not been as severe. For example, several wards were closed for several days after former President Mohamed Morsi died during a court session in June 2019. Similarly, outdoor activities were suspended for a day after the death of Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam al-Erian in August. Outdoor activities were also suspended on September 20 in conjunction with the calls to protest made by contractor and former actor Mohamed Ali.
At least three other prisoners held in Tora died in the three weeks leading up to September 7, including 58-year-old psychiatrist Amr Abu Khalil, Ahmed Abdul Nabi, and Erian.
Human rights organizations have documented numerous cases of medical negligence inside Egyptian prisons. In June 2019, following the death of Morsi, 10 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.”