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HRW: 14 prisoners died of COVID-19 in Egypt since 15 July

Egyptian prisoners can be seen behind bars [Amr Sayed/Apaimages]
Egyptians can be seen behind prison bars, 20 February 2020 [Amr Sayed/Apaimages]

At least 14 detainees have died of suspected coronavirus complications in Egypt across ten facilities since mid-July, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.

Despite many prisoners displaying covid symptoms, there has been “insufficient medical care” and “virtually no access to testing for the virus or symptom screening.”

“Egyptian authorities should take immediate steps to provide everyone in detention with adequate medical care and measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak,” says Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“It’s essential for Egypt to address the spread of the virus by accelerating prisoner releases.”

Rights groups have long warned that overcrowding in Egypt’s prison cells makes social distancing impossible. Cells are fertile breeding ground for the spread of the virus.

There are no contact tracing measures in place, according to the report; prisoners with symptoms have not been isolated and vulnerable detainees are not protected.

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In at least three prisons detainees were prohibited from wearing masks.

The Committee for Justice says it has documented more than 190 cases of coronavirus in 12 prisons and 29 police stations including 30 Interior Ministry employees and soldiers.

Medicine and disinfectants are often only available when family deliver it, however, all prison visits by family and lawyers have been banned since 10 March.

Legal action has been threatened against journalists reporting on coronavirus in Egypt that deviates from the official line.

Prisoners interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that when news is published about conditions in their prisons, they are subject to a range of punitive measures, including being interrogated, transferred to distant prisons, their belongings confiscated and being beaten and physically abused.

Of the 14 inmates that died of suspected coronavirus, nine died in hospital though three of them were transferred just hours before they died when little could be done to save them.

The report on covid outbreaks in several Egyptian prisons comes as a number of state-run news outlets report that Egypt’s daily infection rate, according to official figures, has gone down for the third consecutive day.

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