“The prisoners are deprived of newspapers, radio and the Internet. What do they know about the coronavirus and how to protect themselves from it? “ Mona Seif is alarmed. For a month, the young woman has had no news of her brother, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, arbitrarily detained since September 2019.
Breaking the closed doors of Egyptian prisons
As of July 31, Egypt officially had 4,774 people deceased from Covid-19 and 93,757 cases of infected people. The youngest in a family of political activists, Mona Seif is fighting to break the closed doors of prisons, while the authorities have suspended visits to the visiting room, since March 10 and the start of the pandemic in the country.
“We only got two letters from Alaa. For each of them, our family paid a very heavy price, Mona Seif points. The first came after Alaa went on a 37-day hunger strike. And the second, after the arrest of my little sister (accused of spreading false news about the coronavirus, Editor’s note) ». She adds : “I don’t know what we’ll have to do to get a third one… These letters are the only way to find out when he’s alive.”
Like her, the families of detainees cling to this ultimate link to their loved ones, at a time when cases of coronavirus are increasing in the cells of prisons and police stations across the country, according to a report published on July 20 by the organization Human Rights Watch.
200 prisoners suspected of having contracted Covid-19
At least fourteen prisoners, distributed in ten detention centers, are said to have died from the disease, reveals the human rights NGO, which condemns the lack of medical care, lack of access to tests, and overcrowding prison, despite the 13,000 detainees released since February.
Cited in this report, the Committee for Justice, an independent organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, reports nearly 200 prisoners suspected of having contracted Covid-19. A number “Extremely worrying”, alert Aida Seif al-Dawla, head of the Egyptian center Al-Nadeem for the rehabilitation of victims of torture.
“Prisons are ultra-contagious places: overcrowded, without clean water or ventilation, denounce this psychiatrist. Since the interruption of visits in March, some detainees have never left their cells. Others have not been out in the open since the start of their detention ”. His organization, along with three other NGOs, is behind a petition to assert the right of detainees to communicate with the outside.
Lack of care: a repeated violation of human rights
“These coronavirus-related deaths could have been avoided! Only one of these detainees was over 60 years old, the others were not elderly ”, Continue Aida Seif al-Dawla. “Unfortunately, letting prisoners die is a practice that does not date from the coronavirus“. According to Human Rights Watch, only nine of the 14 detainees who died were transferred to hospital, sometimes just hours before their death.
Between the coming to power of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013 and December 2019, 677 detainees died due to lack of medical care, according to the Committee For Justice.
In the face of these repeated human rights violations, the families of detainees provide vital assistance. “Every month I bring food and medicine”, relates, on condition of anonymity, the wife of a detainee suspected of having contracted the coronavirus. “The officers allow me because I keep silent on the state of health of my husband. They threaten to put our loved ones in solitary confinement if we tell the media about the coronavirus in prison ”, she explains, adding that she was not allowed to provide surgical masks.
Mona Seif drops off groceries every week, with no way of knowing if they are reaching her brother. ” It’s inhumane “, she concludes.
60,000 political prisoners out of 106,000 detainees
Egypt has around 106,000 detainees, according to the Arab Network for Human Rights Information. Several NGOs estimate the number of political prisoners, Islamist or liberal opponents, at 60,000.
Ramy Shaath, 48, figure of the 2011 revolution, has been detained since July 2019, accused of wanting to instigate “Unrest against the state”. Suffering from an ulcer, he shares a 25 m2 cell with 18 other men, explains his wife, the French Céline Lebrun.
La campagne #FreeRamyShaath denounced on July 26 the renewal for “45 additional days” of his pre-trial detention ” in his absence “ at the hearing, and “In the absence of proof justifying this decision”, and the fact that he “Not been able to communicate with his lawyer for four months”.