The Public Prosecutor Fails in Investigating the Mass Killings and Ill-Treatment of Prisoners during the Egyptian Revolution: EIPR urges African and UN Rapporteurs to Intervene

Press Release

22 December 2011

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) sent today urgent action requests to United Nations and African Commission special mechanisms, requesting their intervention regarding the unlawful killings, torture and denial of health care of prisoners since the January revolution.  

"We sent letters to the UN and African Commission because our repeated calls for action to the Egyptian government since last February kept being ignored," said Magda Boutros, Criminal Justice Reform Director at the EIPR. "We have called on the authorities to stop the abuses while they were happening; we have since been calling for a prompt and impartial investigation to bring perpetrators to justice. Both calls have been ignored."


Video: Martyrs Behind Bars during Egypt's Revolution

The EIPR sent letters to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The EIPR also sent letters to the African Commission Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa and the Special Rapporteur on Summary, Arbitrary and Extra-Judicial Executions in Africa.

The letters called on the Special Rapporteurs to take urgent action to express their concerns to the government of Egypt regarding the severe violations suffered by the prisoners.  The EIPR's letters also condemned the failure of the state's institutions to take prompt action to stop the violations or bring perpetrators to justice. In particular, the EIPR stated that the Public Prosecutor's Office has been grossly negligent in investigating the abuses, unduly delaying the investigations and showing bias.

Evidence collected by the EIPR indicates that, between 29 January and 20 February, prison guards opened fire on inmates killing more than 100 prisoners and injuring hundreds across five prisons - al-Qatta prison in the governorate of Giza, Shebin el Kom prison in the governorate of Monofya, al-Abaadya prison in the governorate of Damanhour, Tora prison and the Appeals prison in Cairo. The killings in all of these prisons followed the same pattern: prison officers not only used excessive and unlawful force and firearms against prisoners, but also shot at unarmed prisoners inside cellblocks and cells using live ammunition. The available evidence suggests that most of those were intentional killings, and had nothing to do with attempted escapes.

In addition to extra-judicial killings, detainees were subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in at least four prisons. Prisoners in al-Qatta, Damanhour, Shebin el Kom and Tora prisons told the EIPR  that, after the heavy shootings of the last days of January, the security forces completely withdrew from the blocks, locked the block gates, cut off water and electricity and did not provide prisoners with any food. Guards from the watchtowers were shooting towards the cellblocks regularly. In all these prisons, this situation lasted for 10 to 15 days, until army officers intervened to secure the entry of some bread and cheese to prisoners, and water and electricity were restored, at least for a couple of hours a day. This resulted in the death and injury of even more prisoners.

The letters go on to state that injured prisoners were denied access to adequate and timely medical care. Most injured detainees were left with no medical care for the first ten days, after which the most severely injured were transferred for treatment, often in inadequate medical facilities. Transfers to better equipped medical facilities were delayed so long that prisoners' health deteriorated rapidly.

Furthermore, the letters outline how investigations conducted by state institutions are greatly lacking and inadequate. Eleven months after the violations happened, none of the cases before the Public Prosecutor's Office in the five aforementioned prisons have been referred to trial.

"We got access to the investigations file concerning the killings in al Qatta prison," said Hoda Nasrallah, lawyer with the EIPR. "The file revealed that the prosecutor in charge of the investigation has not summoned for interrogation any of the officers accused of killing prisoners, eleven months into the investigations, despite the fact that their names are cited in the dozens of complaints he has received. In addition, those prisoners whose names came in the complaints as witnesses were not summoned by the Chief Prosecutor either."

It should be noted that the EIPR released, in August, a report entitled "Martyrs Behind Bars" uncovering evidence of the killings, torture and cruel treatment and denial of medical care prisoners were subjected to in five prisons between 25 January and April 2011. The report is now available in English.