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Human Rights Watch Releases Harrowing Accounts of Torture at Cairo's Tora Maximum Security Prison

An epileptic hunger-striker was beaten within an inch of his life, according to one account.

A new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) claims that inmates at Cairo's Tora Maximum Security Prison - also known as Scorpion Prison - are routinely tortured and subject to physical and mental abuse, cut off from their families and lawyers, and even denied medical treatment at times. 

We Are in Tombs: Abuses in Egypt's Scorpion Prison is based on the accounts of relatives of inmates, lawyers, and a survivor of Scorpion Prison. The report documents the cases of political prisoners detained in the infamous prison complex following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, claiming that there was a surge in politically-motivated arrests that resulted in Egypt's prisons operating at 150 percent of their capacity. 

Scorpion Prison was built in 1993 and has long been used to detain Egypt's most dangerous offenders, like violent Islamist extremists who led the wave of violence that took place in 80s and 90s. “It was designed so that those who go in don’t come out again unless dead. It was designed for political prisoners,” a former warden said of Scorpion. The prison's role subsided in 2000; however, the Scorpion reprised its old ways after the events of 2013. 

Some of the relatives told the organisation the prison management banned visits to stem the flow of supplies, such as food and medicine, as part of a 'starvation policy'. Several death row inmates were also denied family visits and were executed without notice, which is a violation of Egyptian law.

According to families, prisoners were denied medical treatment, even for requests upheld by prosecutors. And in spite of law-mandated periodic medical checkups, prisoners didn't receive any, which has endangered the health of many, especially those who suffer from chronic diseases. 

"At least six Scorpion inmates died in custody during or soon after the period in 2015 when all visits were banned," the report says. A diabetic inmate died shortly after his court hearing where he appeared "shaking" and "unable to stand or control his own urination." He passed away after prison officials refused to give him his medication "despite prosecutorial and judicial orders to do so." Another fell into a hepatic coma in his cell and wasn't transferred to a hospital until two days after the fact and died a week later. 

In February 2016, several inmates began a hunger strike in protest of the appalling conditions of their detention to which the authorities - including Assistant Interior Minister for Prisons Major General Hassan Al Sohagi - responded with violence. According to HRW, officers severely beat an epileptic hunger-striker after which they "heavily sedated him and another hunger striker without their consent, after which the second man lost consciousness for around a day and a half and vomited blood." 

In a 2016 court hearing, Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Al Beltagy claimed that Al Sohagi and another high-ranking official "forced him during a recent cell inspection to strip and squat while they filmed him in order to force him to withdraw a complaint against President al-Sisi." Aisha Al Shater told the organisation that prisoners are "made to lie on the ground while officers take pictures and “stomp” on their stomachs."

Photo: AFP/Khaled Desouki
You can read the full report here