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‘Cold cells’ campaign hopes to close Egypt’s notorious Scorpion wing

File photo of the entrance to the notorious Tora prison (Scorpion Prison) in Egypt [File photo]
Entrance to the notorious Tora prison (Scorpion Prison) in Egypt [File photo]

The friends and family of prisoners in Egypt have launched a social media campaign to raise awareness of the dire conditions inside Egypt’s prisons.

Under a number of hashtags including the Arabic for “the cold cells” and “the cold is a scorpion’s sting”, activists are posting details of how prison authorities have banned blankets, heaters and warm clothing from entering the prisons leaving detainees suffering in the cold winter weather and exacerbating existing medical conditions.

This is only set to get worse as the Egyptian Meteorological Authority has predicted cold weather across the country, with frost in Central Sinai and Upper Egypt.

Under the campaign, a post quotes a female detainee who complains that her bones hurt from sleeping on the floor of Qanatir Prison. Another is of a child detainee who has been refused warm clothing for almost four years.

The cold cells campaign focuses on the Scorpion wing of the Tora Prison complex, the most notorious of Egypt’s detention centres, where most political prisoners are held.

READ: Lawyer Mahienour El-Massry spends 34th birthday in Egypt prison

As well as suffering from the cold, detainees are tortured, beaten, prevented from communicating with their families and denied urgent medical care. They are kept in dark, dirty, non-ventilated cells and often banned from receiving visitors.

On Saturday 4 January journalist Mahmoud Abdel Majid Mahmoud, 47, died inside the Scorpion wing after being denied medical care and suffering from the cold and hunger.

As his condition deteriorated prison authorities ignored his and his cellmates’ cries for help and left him to die.

Following Mahmoud’s death, some 300 detainees began a hunger strike in protest against their inhumane conditions and demanded authorities open an investigation into his death.

Authorities did nothing to respond to the prisoners’ demands and instead confiscated their belongings and raided their cells.

Several of the strikers fainted when their blood sugar level and blood pressure dropped. Five are in a coma.

READ: Egypt prison authorities raid cells of prisoners protesting death of journalist

In August last year several detainees in the Scorpion wing went on hunger strike and were reprimanded with beatings and electric shocks.

Less than a week after Mahmoud’s death, political prisoner Alaa El-Din Saad, 56, died inside Burj al-Arab Prison, after prison authorities refused to give him medication.

In the beginning Alaa just had a cold but the conditions inside his cell aggravated his condition.

Alaa was accused of founding an organisation that blocks drains to rally public anger against the Egyptian government, a ludicrous accusation that had fatal consequences.

Also on Wednesday Mahmoud Mohamed, 37, died inside Bandor Luxor police station after he suffered severe fatigue and his blood pressure dropped as a result of the cold. Mahmoud’s death has not been independently verified by human rights groups.

In December Céline Lebrun-Shaath, the wife of political prisoner Ramy Shaath, told MEMO that Ramy was being held in a 25-square-metre cell with 18 other prisoners who cook and sleep in the same place.

Inmates slept on the floor without blankets and were forced to shower with cold water.

Ramy, who has been held since 5 July, had his pre-trial detention renewed again on Saturday.

During his court hearing he said: “Take care of each other on the outside and tomorrow shall be better and brighter.”

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