A very important international human rights report was published a few days ago by America’s Human Rights Watch. Called “We live in tombs”, it took many months to prepare and it looks at the maximum security Tora Prison, known in Egypt as “Scorpion Prison”.
The importance of this report stems from the fact that it provides rare international documentation of some of the crimes committed inside Egyptian prisons, beginning with the notorious Scorpion. There is a serious problem regarding coverage of the violations committed by the Egyptian authorities against the prisoners, regardless of whether they are political prisoners or criminals. The root of the problem is the difficulty of documenting such crimes given the continued prohibition of family and lawyer visits, as well as independent human rights organisations being banned from visiting the prisons and monitoring the situation.
Documentation is a complex process with approved international standards, and carried out by specific organisations before a report or statement is issued regarding a violation. It involves fact-checking the authenticity of the incidents and looking into all the circumstances surrounding them as well as all the available information. It also consists of mentioning the approach adopted while looking into the methodology of interviews, the medical report and photographs, and confirming their authenticity. All of this gives the reports which are published real credibility within political, legal and media circles. Hence the importance of such reports which collate a lot of information and testimonies from eyewitnesses and victims; it is rare to find something so useful given the current situation in Egypt.
On the other hand, such documentation refutes the lies promoted by the regime’s supporters and associated media regarding claims that allegations of torture and inhumane treatment to which the prisoners in Scorpion Prison are subjected are “exaggerated”. Such people will continue to doubt and question the facts even after the Human Rights Watch report has been published, but they will not be able to come up with a similar report prepared with as much rigour that refutes the facts in the published report.
The report will put many members of the National Council for Human Rights, perhaps even most of them, in an awkward and embarrassing position since they are the only human rights party that was allowed to visit the prison and monitor the situation therein. If an organisation far away from Egypt was capable of documenting the violations in this manner, why can’t Egypt’s own National Council for Human Rights monitor and document the situation in the same manner?
The council’s first visit to the prison made it a laughing stock to everyone, near and far. The authorities used this visit to have its media portray parts of the prison in a manner that made it seem more like a hotel than an infamous detention centre. The authorities realised their mistake, so allowed the council to visit the prison once again a few months later. Before the second visit, prisoners were allowed to have lots of food and clothing, but there was another problem when the delegation was stopped from entering cells and seeing specific prisoners asked for by name. The authorities also prohibited one of the delegation members, Ragia Omran, from actually entering the prison.
The Human Rights Watch recommendations include holding the public prosecutor responsible for duties in this regard, calling for transparent investigations into the deaths of prisoners in custody and questioning prison officials regarding the allegations of torture. The prosecution service is supposed to be an independent judicial authority, and the report bases its argument on this fact.
The worst thing that prisoners have to endure after having their dignity and freedom violated is that their cases are forgotten. This report has revived the cases of hundreds who are suffering in prison. This should not be the case in any country, let alone a major nation such as Egypt.
Translated from Arabi21, 2 October, 2016
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.