The Interior Ministry refused to issue permits to the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) to inspect conditions in the notorious maximum security prison Aqrab, which houses scores of political prisoners, on Monday.
Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, the deputy president of the state-appointed NCHR, said in an interview with the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper that NCHR is seeking to investigate Aqrab because it received “many complaints concerning the treatment of prisoners in Aqrab Prison and the deteriorating health standards and living conditions of inmates.”
Shokr added that NCHR also received many reports from families of prisoners in Aqrab, “regarding ill-treatment by the prison administration during their visits, as well as reductions in the duration of visits.”
A Facebook page founded by the Association of Family Members of Aqrab Prisoners details deteriorating health conditions and other abuses allegedly suffered in the maximum security facility. The page also includes reports of torture and deaths inside the prison.
Interviews with family members of these inmates, published this month in the left-leaning Al-Badeel news portal, described Aqrab as being a “graveyard of prisoners.”
Located within the Tora Prison Complex, in Southeastern Cairo, Aqrab Prison is home to high-profile political detainees – typically accused of terrorism charges.
Shokr commented that the NCHR is urgently repeating its calls and requests to the Interior Ministry for visitation permits to Aqrab Prison in hopes of being granted access to inspect its conditions.
Shokr also explained that the Interior Ministry did not refuse to grant permits for all prisons. The NCHR received permits to inspect the Damanhour prison and Abu Zaabal prison in the Beheira and Qalyubia governorates, respectively.
In an interview with Al-Shorouk newspaper on Monday, Shokr said that these permits were issued for August 23 and 24.
The NCHR requested the recently-issued permits to visit Damanhour and Abu Zaabal Prisons two months ago, said Shokr.
According to Shokr, the NCHR drew up a plan three months ago to visit and inspect several prisons nationwide. Shokr added that prior to the month of Ramadan, the council only ended up visiting three prisons – Qanater, Marg and Tora Prisons.
A NCHR delegation also visited Abu Zaabal Prison in March, but were only allowed to meet with four prisoners. The report from the visit stated that the prisoners were afraid to voice their concerns to the delegation due to alleged threats they received from prison authorities.
NCHR inspections of Qanater Women’s Prison last year revealed the occurrence of physical abuse and mistreatment by female security guards, but denied allegations of rape and torture.
Over the past two months alone, five deaths have been reported in prisons and detention centers due to conditions within these detention facilities – including overcrowding, medical negligence physical abuse, along with unsanitary and unhygienic conditions.
The Ministry of Interior has repeatedly denied claims of abuse in detention facilities. A senior official from the ministry even claimed last year that Egypt’s prisons have become as accomodating as hotels.