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Al-Aqrab: the Egyptian prison with carcinogenic Asbestos and fatal diseases

Al-Aqrab (Scorpion) prison is one of the mot infamous torture citadels in Egypt. It is the innovation of a group of officers who had been to America on a training mission and returned to us bearing the most sinister idea as to how to deter opponents in Egypt. One of those officers was Habib Al-Adly, the master of torture in Egypt, who has recently been rewarded by the current regime with a proclamation of innocence. Detainees in that prison receive the worst treatment and are subjected to the most vicious types of torture including rape, with some ending up losing their lives while incarcerated. In this report, we explore the background to the establishment of this top security prison and list some of the names of its most famous inmates as well as some of the forms of torture that take place in it and the names of some of the most famous individuals to be delivered out in coffins.

Its construction was proposed by some of the officers who received training in America and was built using carcinogenic asbestos

The idea of building it was proposed in 1991 by a group of police officers who had just been back from a training mission in America. Its construction lasted two years and was fully completed on 30 May 1993. It consists of 320 cells divided into 4 wards. Five of the cells are used for discipline. It might be possible that those officers received training at Guantanamo prison and were impressed by the methods of torture applied there and loved to implement that in Egypt. It might also be possible that those officers, including Habaib Al-Adli – who was at the time one of the assistants of Interior Minister Hasan Al-Alfi, went to learn inhumanity from the inhumane regime the US Administration applied to Guantanamo detainees. Perhaps Al-Adli and his comrades thought of this model as a suitable remedy for political opponents of the regime. Naturally, the members of the Muslim Brotherhood have had the lion’s share of this treatment.

Colonel Omar Afifi has stated that Al-Aqrab Prison was set up in a different fashion compared to all other prisons in Egypt. It was constructed using reinforced concrete blocks mixed with carcinogenic asbestos. Indeed, all of its more that 2 meter wide walls were made of cement mixed with carcinogenic asbestos and not of bricks. Consequently, inmates immediately develop fatal diseases most notably asthma, cancer, brittle bones, mange and other serious illnesses.

Describing the prison, Afifi went on to say: “Al-Aqrab prison was designed so that the sunlight never enters any of its cells during the day. As a result inmates develop other diseases due to the lack of vitamin D whose scarcity leads to weakness in the mind and in the body. The prison also suffers from lack of ventilation. During summer temperature within it rises to unbearable levels while in winter it turns into a freezer.”

Its most famous inmates

Its most famous inmates included: Preacher Sheikh Abd Al-Hamid Kishk, journalist and writer Mustafa Amin, the members of Egypt’s revolution organisation, the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood soon after its establishment and in the aftermath of 30 June, Gamaa Islamiyah members, Tariq and Abbud Al-Zumur, leftist leader Kamal Khalil, journalist Gamal Fahmy, politicians Ayman Nur and Tawfiq Abduh Ismail, businessman Hisham Talaat Mustafa, Hussam Abu Al-Futuh, former governor Mahir Al-Jundi, sugar trader Atif Salam, former parliament member Khalid Hamid Mahmoud, former Egyptian TV head of news department Muhammad Al-Wakil, Ismat Abu Al-Maali, Amr Al-Hawari, Israeli spy Azzam Azzam, Mustafa Al-Balidi, Ahmad Al-Rayyan, former finance minister Muhyiddin Al-Gharib, culture ministry under secretary Muhsin Shaalan, Murtada Mansour and Alaa Abd Al-Fattah.

There is a huge difference in conditions of Israeli spies such as Azzam Azzam and Mustafa Al-Balidi on the one hand and the rest of the political prisoners on the other hand. According to a report prepared by the society for assisting prisoners the cell in which Israeli spy Azzam Azzam and Egyptian spy Tariq Imadiddin were kept was clean, tidy and just different from the rest of the cells. The spies were meted humane treatment. After all, they are spies who worked for Egypt’s enemy number one, Israel. Whereas if you were to set your eyes on the other sides you would find torture and persecution and inhuman treatment in the rest of the cells. Political prisoners were seen by the Mubarak regime is undeserving of the humane treatment meted to the spies because they were perceived as more threatening to the regime than the spies themselves.

Al-Aqrab prisoners are punished with a ban on medicines, starvation and no more than a 10 minute visitation

Perhaps the pictures published yesterday of Dr. Issam Sultan and Saad Al-Din Al-Katatni, and prior to that of activist Alaa Abd Al-Fattah, are the best proof of our assertion that the Egyptian regime is resorting to the policy of starving Al-Aqrab prison detainees. Not only that. The Yanair Gate compiled in a previous report testimonies by some of the relatives of the detainees who said that their loves ones had been denied medicines and visits and that they were also denied incoming meals. Some had their visits cancelled and some had the duration of the visit cut short to anything between 3 and 10 minutes. Visits are only allowed from behind a glass barrier and as the winter cold begins to bite severely they have also been denied access to winter garments brought to them by their relatives.

Inside Al-Aqrab Prison, torture ranges from severe beating to molestation and rape and inmates are denied the right to appeal against the death penalty

Torture within the prisons has been the constitution of successive Egyptian regimes. Yet, Al-Aqrab Prison has its special style since it is a prison dedicated to political prisoners who are favoured with mass persecution and torture. This is what its own inmates testified to and what has been reported by international human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, which says: “detainees are said to be subjected to severe beatings with canes and clubs and to electric shocks applied to various parts of their body and in some cases to molestation and rape.”

In a previous report entitled “Slow Death Chases the Detainees of Egypt’s Al-Aqrab Prison”, Human Rights Watch addressed the issue and quoted the testimony of one of the detainees in ward H1 within Al-Aqrab prison. He said that detainees are routinely subjected to severe beating with sticks and clubs. They are also subjected to electric shocks in various parts of their bodies including in the most sensitive areas. In addition, most detainees are suspended for many hours along the wall, sometimes for several days continuously.

The organisation also reported that a number of detainees were subjected by prison officers and soldiers to full rape and not just to mere sexual molestation. A prison detainee had told the organisation’s representative: “A number of us were forced to crouch down on four limbs just like animals and a stick was inserted in the anus as a new form of humiliation and persecution.”

The report added that a large number of those held within the prison suffer from chronic illnesses that require immediate surgical operations and special medical care. However, the prison administration refuses to allow these operations to be carried out. He pointed out that one of the detainees urgently needed a heart catheterisation operation but it was denied to him without obvious reasons. As such the detainees’s life has been endangered.

Al-Aqrab Prison denies 10 young men accused in the case of Al-Dhawahiri cell from appealing against their sentence

Today, lawyer Khalid Al-Masri said that the family of only one detainee from among ten detainees were able to meet lawyer Al-Bashlawi who told them that “Al-Aqrab Prison authorities have refused to sign the appeal papers and they submitted to him copies of the appeal report with the refusal to sign. But this was false, mere lying and baseless. For they told us yesterday in the case of Al-Ansar that they never showed them the report of the appeal yet so as to sign it.”

Al-Masri went on to say: “When the family of the detainee told lawyer Al-Bashlawi that this was mere lying, he asked them to write an official letter immediately in order to return the appeal report to them today. They were only able to write the application for their own defendant.

In an urgent appeal, Al-Masri called on the families of the remaining nine detainees who were given death sentences in the case of Al-Dhawahiri to go to the office of Al-Bashalwi immediately now and to write the application before the expiry of the legal period of the appeal lest the sentence becomes final and absolute.

When you read that statement you cannot but be stunned to know to what extent this regime is so inhumane. Despite the innocence of the chief defendant in this case, who is known as Muhammad Al-Dhawahiri, the regime insists on executing ten young men accused of being members of that cell. This is an extremely laughable matter. Once you have cleared the person you accuse of being their chief, how come you continue to insist on executing a group of young men by accusing them of being members?

Deaths within Al-Aqrab Prison

It is not possible to provide a full list of the names of the people who died within Al-Aqrab Prison since its establishment because during the reign of deposed President Husni Mubarak, it was almost impossible to talk about the prison in the media. The Mubarak regime used to do what it liked without control and without death statistics. However things changed in the aftermath of the January revolution when some media outlets are are independent of the regime and some independent human rights organisations too drew attention to the situation inside prisons and to the conditions in which detainees are held including the number of deaths among them. After 3 July, we can say that around 300 detainees died within Al-Aqrab Prison due to medical negligence, malnutrition and torture.

Among the most famous to die inside Al-Aqrab prison due to torture or medical negligence were: Muslim Brotherhood leader and parliamentarian, who spoke for the farmers, Farid Islamil; Zaki Abu Al-Majd, Abu Bakr Al-Qadi, Jihaddist leader Nabil Al-Mughrabi, Jihaddist leader Marjan Salik, Gamaa Islamiyah Issam Darbalah and Imad Hasan whose death aroused a wave of popular outrage and who died as a result of stomach cancer inside Al-Aqrab prison and who was neglected until his death on the second day of Eid Al-Adha in 2015.

Until when will Al-Aqrab Prison remain a death shelter in Egypt? No one knows. The regime continues to throw opponents inside it where they receive the most brutal persecution. We continue to wait for God’s deliverance and so do the persecuted detainees within Al-Aqrab prison. They are also expecting us to continue to campaign for their deliverance from the hell in which they persevere day and night.

Translated from Yanair, 4 December 2015

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