Rights groups call for immediate investigation into the latest assaults on women-inmates in Qanater Prison … Political prisoners are subjected to violence and ill-treatment

Press Release

Monday, 23 June, 2014

The government must immediately put in place effective measures to protect prisoners from further abuse, said the undersigned organizations following fresh allegations of beatings and other forms of ill-treatment against women inmates at al-Qanater Prison on the 10th of June. Impartial, independent and full investigations must be conducted, and the abused prisoners must be urgently taken for forensic examinations.

This latest violence in al-Qanater Prison serves as a further blow to Egypt's appalling record in the treatment of political prisoners. In the past three weeks, reports of violence committed against political prisoners have emerged from Wadi al-Natroun male prison on the 31st of May and from a juvenile facility in Koum al-Dikka in Alexandria on the 4th of June amid the failure of the government to investigate the allegations and protect detainees from further abuse.

Families of the imprisoned women have first raised alarms about the abuse after visiting the women inmates, mostly Azhar University students in their late teens or early twenties, in the days following the violence on the 10th of June. The families recounted to the undersigned organizations the poor physical and mental state in which they found their detained relatives describing visible bruises, contusions and swellings including on their faces and heads. According to the families’ accounts, the violence was sparked by an altercation between a female guard and one of the political detainees in a cell known as “military” which houses 17 women who were originally arrested during demonstrations or events of political violence at Azhar University. Families of the inmates said the women protested against the verbal abuse endured by their cellmate leading to an escalated standoff. In response, the prison guards allowed a number of common-law prisoners to enter the cell followed by male security agents. According to the relatives, the women were then punched, kicked and beaten with various objects including metal bars by both the common-law prisoners and the security agents. Furthermore, the relatives complained that the detainees’ personal belongings including their shoes and most of their clothes were confiscated. The same scenarios was then repeated in another cell commonly referred to as “investigations” where 22 more women were detained also for political activities.

Following the violence, the political prisoners were separated from each other and redistributed into other cells in al-Qanater Prison. According to the inmates’ families, four women were transferred to Banha Prison and five others were sent to Damanhour Prison while others were transferred to Gamasa Prison. Inmates’ relatives report a worsening of the detained women’s living conditions since the violent incident on the 10th of June. Some were reportedly forced to sleep on toilets’ floors while others were placed in solitary confinement. According to the best knowledge of the undersigned organizations, none have been examined by a doctor or received medical treatment. The undersigned organizations call on the government to immediately put an end to punitive measures against these political prisoners and ensure they have access to the medical treatment they might require.

Ministry of Interior officials including the head of the Human Rights Sector have denied allegations of “torture and sexual harassment” in the al-Qanater Prison to the media on the 12th of June, and have affirmed the Ministry’s commitment to human rights. The undersigned organizations note that such denial can’t be taken seriously since no judicial inquiry was conducted by the public prosecution, none of the complaining women were interviewed by investigators or referred to forensics for examination, and no independent observers were permitted to visit the prison. The undersigned organizations point out that the father of one of the detained students who had sustained blows to the head have filed a complaint with the public prosecutor and the general attorney and no measures were taken in regards to this complaint so far.

Despite promises of investigations by the public prosecution into prison violence following similar abuses in Wadi al-Natroun Prison on the 31st of May, it is yet unclear whether an investigation has even started. There is no confirmation that victims of these alleged abuses have been interviewed by investigators or examined by medical authorities. The lack of accountability fosters a climate of impunity whereby abuse of prisoners by security personnel in prisons is allowed to continue.

The undersigned organizations repeat its request for the government to allow a delegation representing these organizations to visit prisons and detention facilities, and to interview the inmates who have complaints of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. The Minister of Interior had announced an invitation for human rights organizations to make such a visit months ago. However, the invitation was never formally sent and never reached the independent organizations that demanded the visit. Nothing changed with Ministry of Interior’s intransigence in regards to granting visits to prisons casting heavy shadows of suspicion on the seriousness of the aforementioned invitation which appears to have possibly been made for the sole purpose of propaganda.

The frequency of torture complaints and the absence of serious subsequent investigations signals the government’s failure to uphold its responsibility to protect prisoners from torture and other forms of ill-treatment as stipulated by the 2014 constitutional amendments, and constitutes an insult to those who voted in the constitutional referendum. Furthermore, such violations go against Egypt’s international obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination Against Women to prevent and investigate any forms of violence against women and girls.

 

Signatories:

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  2. Center for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance
  3. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
  4. El Nadeem Center for psychological rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
  5. Habi Center for Environmental Rights
  6. New Woman Foundation
  7. Nazra for Feminist Studies
  8. Association for Freedom of Thoughts and Expressions
  9. The Arab Network for Human Rights Information
  10. Misryon Against Religious Discrimination
  11. Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners
  12. Arab Penal Reform Organization