Families of inmates say Aqrab Prison has banned visits until after April 25 protests

Multiple relatives of prisoners in Cairo’s maximum-security Aqrab Prison say that prison guards have banned visitation until after April 25.

Ali Mahfouz, whose uncle is in Aqrab, said his mother was told by guards that she could not visit her brother until April 25. Mahfouz believes this is because of the protests expected on April 25 against a new maritime border agreement that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi signed earlier this month with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, granting sovereignty over the Red Sea islands Sanafir and Tiran to Saudi Arabia.

The April 25 protests would be the second mass protest against the transfer of the islands. Last Friday, around 1,500 people protested in downtown Cairo against the island transfer until Central Security Forces fired teargas to disperse the crowds. Hundreds were arrested across the country pursuant to the demonstrations.

The guards did not say directly they were worried about security ahead of the scheduled protests, Mahfouz said, but “they are afraid of any sort of resistance. They banned everyone from visiting anyone in prison.”

The Facebook page “Dying to Live” has collected testimonies from several people who were told they would not be allowed into the prison to see their relatives until after April 25. The Freedom for the Brave campaign also published 12 accounts from families who were recently barred visiting their imprisoned relatives. Relatives stated they were forced to wait for long hours before the guards told them they were not allowed to visit.

“We waited in front of the prison gate from 5 am until midnight, when the guard told us there were no visits,” said one anonymous source.

There have long been reports of inhumane conditions at Aqrab. Many relatives of prisoners frequently complain that they are banned from visitation, while those who are allowed visits claim that prisoners suffer from a lack of access to food, clean water and medication. But Mahfouz said it has been getting even harder in recent months.

“It’s been getting really tough. Each time it gets harder and harder to get in. There have been a lot of cases in prison of food poisoning, there’s no medication, no care or any sort of medication. There’s no beds, no anything, and any sort of hygiene is banned. We haven’t been able to send my uncle toothbrushes, blankets, comfortable clothes, medication, even soup. We tried to send him soup and they banned it,” he told Mada Masr.

Mahfouz says his mother had to schedule a visit with her brother two days in advance the last time she saw him. She began waiting outside the prison at midnight until she was allowed to enter the prison at 1 pm. When she finally saw her brother, they were separated by a partition and the visit only lasted about 10 minutes.

“It’s like everyone who visits is a slave,” Mahfouz contended. “There is no humanity in this prison. They don’t treat us like humans, they treat us like dogs, or even worse.”

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