A report issued by a British parliamentary Detention Review Panel (DRP) paints a damning picture of the Egyptian prison system and finds the conditions faced by Dr Mohamed Morsi to be symptomatic of the institutionalised torture and ill-treatment suffered by political prisoners in the country. The panel was commissioned at the request of the former President’s family following concerns about his treatment in prison, where he has been held since being overthrown by a military coup in 2013.
The DRP was comprised of British parliamentarians and lawyers and sought to review Morsi’s detention conditions. Chaired by Crispin Blunt MP, the former Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chair, the panel included Minister of State for Justice Lord Edward Faulks QC and Health and Social Care Committee member Dr Paul Williams MP.
The panel’s report was published recently and provides an in-depth account of the conditions facing Dr Morsi in Cairo’s notorious Tora Prison complex, also known as the Scorpion Prison. The report notes that the prison “has been very harshly condemned for its inability to treat prisoners in accordance with both Egyptian and international law.” It quotes a 2016 Human Rights Watch report in which Ibrahim Abd Al-Ghaffar, a former warden at the prison, is noted as saying that, “[the prison] was designed so that those who go in don’t come out again, unless dead. It was designed for political prisoners.”
The DRP collected evidence from the first-hand testimonies of Dr Morsi, his son Abdullah Morsi and anonymous medical professionals. These testimonies were then combined with reports from the US State Department, Britain’s Home Office, UN working groups and human rights NGOs such as Human Rights Watch in order to place Morsi’s detention in the wider context of prison conditions in Egypt.
The report stresses that, as the first democratically-elected President of Egypt, Dr Morsi is “no ordinary prisoner.” It claims that his detention must be analysed in light of the systematic mistreatment of Egyptian prisoners, and in particular the “harsh treatment currently faced by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party.” The DRP found the testimonies of Dr Morsi and his family to be consistent with the general picture of the conditions faced by other political prisoners in Egypt, as elucidated by second-hand sources.
The panel cite a November 2015 report by Reprieve, a non-profit legal organisation, which states that “torture, ill-treatment and death in custody are rife in [Egypt’s] police stations and prisons.” Indeed, according to Human Rights Monitor, more than 300 detainees have died in prison in Egypt since the coup in 2013, with the cause of death principally due to “medical neglect and torture.” Six inmates of Tora Prison have died in custody since 2015, three of whom were prevented from receiving timely medical treatment or being conditionally released on medical grounds. These precedents give the DRP grounds to believe that, if Dr Morsi is not given the urgent medical care he requires, his neglect will likely lead to his premature death.
The investigations conducted by the DRP have not been well-received by Egypt. Crispin Blunt wrote to the Egyptian Ambassador in Britain, His Excellency Nasser Kamel, to request assistance in arranging to visit Dr Morsi in prison and to outline the mandate of the DRP. Despite repeated reminders, the DRP’s letter remained unanswered by both the Embassy and the Egyptian Government.
The DRP report also highlights that, following the panel’s letter, an Egyptian lawyer filed a complaint to the Egyptian Attorney General with regard to Abdullah Morsi’s request for the DRP to investigate the conditions of his father’s detention. Claiming that Abdullah Morsi had lied and insulted Egypt, the lawyer said this was sufficient to bring formal criminal charges against him. The complaint also accused the British media of “lying and fabricating” evidence in order to damage the human rights reputation of Egypt.
Dr Morsi is one of 60,000 political prisoners being held in Egypt’s prisons; a further 15,000 civilians are thought to have been subject to military trial since 2014. The coup which ousted Morsi was led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the current President of Egypt, who has instigated a strict regime of repression against his political opponents.