The State’s prolonged solitary confinement of Ola Qardawi and Hossam Khalaf amounts to Torture, and should be halted immediately

Press Release

5 October 2017

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) calls for the immediate release of Ola Qardawi and her husband Hossam Khalaf and the disclosure of the charges their arrest was premised on. EIPR also reiterates that every pretrial detainee has the right to receive a weekly visit; and that the state's practice of  prolonged solitary confinement can amount to torture or other ill-treatment according to UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules) and must not be imposed for a prolonged period under any circumstances according to the UN  Special Rapporteur on Torture.  

Ola Qardawi (55 years) and Hosam Khalaf (58 years) were arrested on 30 June by state security forces without warrant over an alleged Muslim Brotherhood link while they vacationed in Egypt’s North Coast. According to the family’s lawyer, National Security agents arrested the couple from their summer house and took them to questioning at a nearby police station. Though their family remained unaware of  Ola and Hossam’s whereabouts until a lawyer informed them that he saw them by happenstance at the Supreme State Security Prosecution’s building in Cairo.  Hossam was then transferred to al-Aqrab (Scorpion) maximum security prison in the Tora Prison complex, while Ola was transferred to al-Qanater Women’s prison.  The transfer was preceded by a 15-day preventive detention order by Egypt’s State Security Prosecution that interrogated Ola and Hossam on 2 July in the absence of a lawyer and without providing any official written copy of the charges, denying the legal defense access to any legal documents pertaining the case. Egyptian security claimed the reason for the interrogations was the couple’s presence in the summer house, owned by Ola al-Qaradawi’s father, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Islamic cleric who has been sentenced to death in absentia and whose assets are frozen for alleged links to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. But Ola al-Qaradawi’s daughter, Aayah, has told rights groups that the property officially belonged to Ola’s deceased mother. Hossam, who was a member of the al-Wasat Party (between 2011 and 2013), was arrested in 2014 and detained for two years without trial, amidst a widespread government crackdown on dissent, which targeted several members of al-Wasat Party.

Ever since their arrest, the State Security Prosecution has renewed Ola and Hosam’s 15-day detention and solitary confinement orders six times--most recently on 24 September-- detaining them for over 90 days, with no change in their inhumane solitary confinement and prison conditions. According to Ola and Hosam’s lawyer, the couple's solitary confinement has been compounded by banning them from receiving visits even from their lawyers, whose only chance to meet with them is during their detention renewal hearings-- typically for less than five minutes. During the most recent hearing, state prosecution held Ola and Hosam's hearings separately (not jointly as was the case for the past hearings) thereby preventing them from even seeing each other during those few brief minutes before the hearing.

Both Ola and Hosam reported being confined in cells no larger than a broom closet (about  1.6 x 1.8- meters) without windows or ventilation for 24 hours a day. Ola reported that unlike other inmates, she is denied time outside her cell, and is only allowed five minutes every morning to use an external toilet. As a result, Ola has started eating much less to avoid needing to go to the bathroom and in the process has lost a significant amount of weight according to the lawyers who see her at State Security Prosecution hearings. Ola's son, Ahmed, and his wife and child as well as Hossam's sister have repeatedly tried to visit each of them in Qanater and Scorpion respectively. owever they were told that the prison authorities informed them that an order was issued on June 25th to ban Ola and Hosam from receiving any visits, including from their lawyers, without providing any justification. When Ahmed tried to visit his mother on September 30th in Qanater prison for the Islamic New Year (one of the holidays which prison authorities allow special visits in addition to the typical weekly visit allowed for pretrial detainees) Ahmed and his wife and child were turned away after waiting for several hours. When his sister attempted to visit Hosam, most recently two weeks ago in Scorpion, she was turned away at the main entrance--all of this despite pretrial detainees being allowed one visit per week per Egyptian law. Moreover, the prisons' isolation of both Ola in Qanater and Hosam in Scorpion breaches the UN’s call for banning prolonged use of solitary confinement, which has significantly increased in the context of the ‘war on terror’ and ‘threats to national security.’  Al-Aqrab (Scorpion), maximum security prison where Hosam is being held,  is notorious for such arbitrary yet systematic violations of the rights of detainees and prisoners as well as its inhumane prison conditions; thus, EIPR is calling for the closure of Scorpion prison followed by an investigation into prisoners’ complaints regarding the violations and abuses they are subjected to.

It is with the state’s systematic abuse of prolonged solitary confinement and unjustified banning of legally-afforded visits, as well as the particular case of Ola and Hosam's 90+ days in pretrial detention and solitary confinement in mind, that EIPR calls on the Egyptian State to:  (1)  immediately release Ola and Hossam and issue medical reparations for medical negligence caused by their inhumane prison conditions and prolonged solitary confinement (2) Stop its practice of prolonged solitary confinement which  constitutes torture according to UN Standards (3) End its practice of arbitrarily yet systematic banning of visits and abide by pretrial detainees legal right to one weekly visit.