Ragia Omran, lawyer and member of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), said that she was prevented from entering the notorious Aqrab Prison Tuesday as part of the council’s delegation to check on the conditions of prisoners.
Omran told Mada Masr in a phone interview that prison authorities said that her name was not listed in the visitation records, despite her reporting to the delegation’s head, George Ishaq, about her intention of taking part in the visit.
Authorities at the prison refused to allow members of the delegation to meet detainees or to visit prison cells during the council’s visit, a member of the NCHR told Mada Masr.
“During the visit, a verbal altercation occurred between Salah Sallam, a member of the council’s committee, and the Interior Ministry’s deputy for prison affairs after he refused to allow Sallam to inspect certain detainees whose families had reported torture and violations by prison authorities,” the source who preferred to remain anonymous said.
Omran, unable to enter at all, explained to Mada Masr, “It was supposed to be that [council members] Kamal Abbas and Ishaq would refuse to enter the prison if any one of the members was prevented from entering. But [council president] Mohamed Fayek could have possibly called any of them to enter.”
Omran said that in cases where certain members of the delegation are prevented from entering, the visit may still go ahead, with prison authorities allowing those visitors who enter to speak with certain prisoners who have been selected.
“What is even worse is the threats made against those [inmates] in case they speak truthfully about the reality inside the prison,” she said.
The human rights lawyer said that she tried to telephone Fayek to assist her in gaining access to the prison, but to no avail.
She added that she gave Ishaq a list of the complaints made by the families of the prisoners in Aqrab.
“What concerns me the most is [how delegation members will answer] the questions to the delegation after the visit, regarding the fate of these complaints, which include violations such as sexual assault against one prisoner called Mohamed Hassan Soliman,” she said.
According to Omran, five other inmates in the same section – called H4W1 – were tortured, as well as two other prisoners, Abdel Aziz Abdel Salam and Mohamed al-Shahat, who both lost their sight due to negligence after being denied a medical examination. There are other complaints related to section H4W2, where prisoners awaiting execution are kept.
She added that one prisoner, Mossad Abu Zeid, suffering from polio, was beaten. Security guards then tried to fabricate charges against him, claiming that he had assaulted officers. However, the charges were later dropped by the prosecution due to his disability.
Omran, however, noted a slight improvement in the treatment of the prisoners in terms of family visitations and having access to clothing. She said that these slight improvements could be linked to the prison authorities’ attempts to provide council members with a better overall impression of the prison, so that they will not be too critical.
“We have been asking since November for preparations for a visit to Aqrab prison to begin,” said Omran.
“As the flow of reports on torture inside kept increasing, we also demanded the release of a statement condemning this torture, and I prepared the draft statement with [council members] Gamal Fahmy, George Ishaq and Mokhtar Nouh. However, it was not released because Fayek was travelling.”
“I demanded this again in another meeting in December and tried with others to pressure Fayek to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, which happened later. Fayek also met with the Interior Minister,” she said.
In recent months, hundreds of prisoners have complained of deteriorating conditions inside Aqrab prison, where many of the Muslim Brotherhood prisoners are kept. In December, families of prisoners and activists launched a campaign called #ادخلوا_الشتوي_للعقرب or let warm clothes into Aqrab, after inmates said they had no access to warm clothes.