“I was forbidden to reassure him and reassure him about us. I was prevented from seeing him smile or consult him on some matters,” Ahmad told me when I asked him about his father Hazem Hosni, a political science professor who had been held in detention for about six months.
Ahmed had not seen his sixtieth father for more than a month. The Egyptian authorities prevented all prisoners from visiting for fear of the spread of corona virus inside prisons. Hosni was accused of spreading false news and of participating in a terrorist group in achieving its objectives.
Ahmed supports the issue of preventing visits to prisoners, and believes that “the entry of large numbers of people to visit may transfer the infection. If only one prisoner is injured, all prisoners will be at risk.”
But he asks, “Can’t he be released at least until the Corona crisis ends? My father is in pretrial detention and no charges have been proven against him.”
Human rights demands
Several organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, have called on the Egyptian government to release those convicted of non-violent crimes and remanded in custody as a precautionary measure against Corona. Human rights groups estimate the number of prisoners of conscience in the country at tens of thousands. While the state categorically denies the detention of any person for political reasons.
According to a report of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights, the rate of overcrowding in prisons amounts to about 150 percent, and exceeds 300 percent in police stations. Several countries in the region, including Jordan, Iran and Turkey, have decided to release large numbers of prisoners to ease the accumulation in cells as a precaution against the Corona virus.
Hazem Hosny is among the groups most vulnerable to infection with the Corona virus due to his age.
“I have been younger than my father for more than twenty years,” says Ahmed. “A few weeks ago, I suffered a suffocation during my sleep. I don’t know if I was a prisoner, would I have found someone who would help me in time?”
Hazem Hosni’s family can only know his news through contacting the prison authorities. “They tell us that he is in good condition, but without details. We are looking for those details to be sure.”
- Corona virus: Is it time to release prisoners to avoid infection?
Conditions inside prisons
There are no precise numbers of prisoners in Egypt, as all figures remain only estimates. “The absence of transparency makes it worse” because if a prisoner is infected with the Corona virus, “it may not be revealed until at a later stage,” said Amr Magdy, a researcher with the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. The medical care he is receiving. ”
The Egyptian Ministry of Interior released video footage of prison sterilization and medical examination of prisoners, including those held in custody pending cases related to their political views.
Magdy adds that “overcrowding is the most serious problem facing prisoners” in this exceptional sanitary condition, noting that “prison hospitals in general are weak capabilities and suffer from a severe shortage of medical personnel.”
The Egyptian human rights lawyer, who lives in Germany, hopes that the Egyptian authorities will listen to the human rights appeals and release the political prisoners and being held as a precaution because the prisons are inherently an environment conducive to infection and incubating diseases, as he described.
“We can imagine what life would look like in a cell that could barely hold five, in which twenty-five or thirty people would be placed,” Majdi said.
No official statement has been issued indicating the presence of those infected with HIV in prisons.
And the Egyptian Ministry of Interior broadcast clips showing extensive sterilization of some prisons and police stations. She said that these precautionary measures will include all police installations across the country, explaining that they are working to create a safe and healthy environment for prisoners. Prisons were also provided with temperature measuring devices to ensure a speedy inspection of all workers and inmates.
She added that the prison authorities receive inmates’ belongings and allow exchange of messages between them and their families after sterilization. The pictures also showed the taking of medical smears from some of the inmates with the aim of carrying out an analysis to detect corona virus.
It is not yet known if the Egyptian authorities will hear, at some point, the human rights voices calling for the release of prisoners, or the use of other alternatives, such as postponing the implementation of the sanctions or imposing residence in the house for the remand prisoners.