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Why do they commit suicide in Egypt prisons?

April 24, 2023 at 4:11 pm

A picture taken on January 16, 2022 shows the Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre in Badr city [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]

When you find yourself behind bars in Egypt, charged in a case of a political nature in the absence of a fair trial, hope for life gradually withers away. At such times, death may become a means of escape from intolerable human rights violations.

Leaked messages from Egyptian prisons about recent suicide attempts by dozens of political detainees are not the first of their kind and are unlikely to be the last, given the lack of any judicial or human rights oversight over the country’s prisons and secret detention centres.

The Badr Prisons 1, 2 and 3, located north-east of the capital, Cairo, also known as the “Badr Reformation and Rehabilitation Centre”, stand out as a hotbed of suicide incidents, and various cases of abuse against opponents of the current President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

Humiliation and Starvation

According to 19 human rights organisations that condemned the recent developments in a joint statement, Egyptian authorities are implementing a policy of starving detainees by providing minimal food, denying prisoners visits for years, as well as preventing them from receiving messages from their families and relatives, and prohibiting medicine, sports and exposure to sunlight.

The situation does not stop there. Punishment intensifies with solitary confinement, regular searches, confiscation of personal belongings, denial of blankets during the winter months and exposure to strong lighting that deprives detainees of sleep around the clock.

In Egyptian cells, prisoners do not have the right to possess personal hygiene items, monitor their health, receive newspapers and books or follow the media. This can only be achieved by paying bribes to prison officials, a matter that varies from one prison to another, depending on the type of detainees held within.

READ: Neama Hisham forced to delete tweet describing attack on detained husband

Tensions within Badr prisons have been exacerbated by the installation of surveillance cameras inside cells, monitoring inmates’ movements around the clock. This sparked protests, with inmates covering the cameras, which quickly escalated into hunger strikes and attempts to end their lives through swallowing pills, artery cutting and hanging.

The situation within the prison is further escalated by the presence of hundreds of leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted from power in mid-2013. Despite his old age (80 years), the spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie, has been subjected to assaults, while dozens suffered from medical negligence, awaiting a slow death.

A New Scorpion

Opened in December 2021, the Badr Prison Complex is dubbed the “New Scorpion”, the same as the notorious Tora Prison Complex (south of Cairo), which houses Mazraa Prison, Liman Tora, Reception Prison, Tora Sentenced Prison and the heavily guarded Scorpion Prison.

“The majority of Badr’s inmates are political prisoners who were transferred from the Tora prison complex amid official celebrations of Egypt’s success in preparing prisons that meet the highest international standards. The prison’s name was changed to “Reform and Rehabilitation Centre”, and prisoners were referred to as “inmates”.

It seems that the change has been limited to the name alone, as harsh and difficult conditions still exist in Egyptian prisons, which previously led to the death of former President Mohamed Morsi in mid-2019. Other prisoners may face the same fate if the issue of deteriorating conditions in Egyptian prisons is not addressed, according to a previous warning issued by UN experts.

Leaked messages circulated by websites affiliated with the Egyptian opposition indicate that there have been 55 suicide attempts, with around 200 others transferred to other prisons. Medical supplies for sick and elderly prisoners, as well as those with chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes, have been denied. The Egyptian Ministry of Interior denied these claims in a statement on Twitter, saying, “There is no truth to what was circulated by one of the channels affiliated with the (terrorist) Muslim Brotherhood group regarding the existence of violations in one of the Reform and Rehabilitation Centres”.

In a recent interview with Middle East Monitor, “M.A.” (an Egyptian detainee, recently released) requested anonymity and confirmed that detainees are subjected to a “ceremony” upon arrival or transfer to a new prison. This term refers to a brutal assault and beating used to “welcome” them, in addition to having their hair forcibly cut and being subjected to humiliating strip searches. This process includes removing their clothes and exposing their buttocks, allegedly out of fear of detainees hiding razor blades in their underwear.

The wife of detained Egyptian journalist, Ahmed Sabee, who is held in Badr Prison, has used her Facebook page to complain about being denied visitation rights for the fourth consecutive year. She wrote, “Who said it is normal that we have passed three years, and not only that, but also an additional two months in the fourth year, and we are still not allowed to check on Ahmed? Also, we are not allowed to see each other. Where are our rights, our most basic rights?”

Slow Death

In a statement issued by 19 local and international organisations, Badr Prisons Complex is described as a more brutal and barbaric version of the shameful Scorpion Prison. The statement emphasises that these systematic and inhumane practices have driven some detainees to commit suicide.

One of the most dangerous suicide attempts was carried out by detainee Mahmoud Al-Saeidi, who tried to kill himself by slaughtering himself. This led to his admission to the prison medical centre in critical condition.

About two months ago, Reuters reported that relatives of inmates said Badr prison denied prisoners healthcare and subjected them to punitive treatment, including isolation.

The number of deaths inside the Badr Prisons Complex as a result of deliberate medical negligence has reached five cases in less than a year since the start of the detention of political prisoners in the prison complex.

An Egyptian journalist, who requested anonymity, considered the mistreatment and deprivation of basic rights, like food and medicine, in Badr prisons an attempt to push detainees towards a slow death. They pointed out that the pressure exerted on detainees and the means of torture, whether physical or psychological, increases the inclination towards suicide.

In an interview with Middle East Monitor, the journalist added that even if individual cases occurred, it could expose other detainees to what is known in psychology as “trauma contagion”. He also noted that the mistreatment of former President Morsi’s eldest son, Osama, holds significance and symbolism, having a more significant impact compared to an unknown prisoner, even if the account of his suicide attempt is not accurate.

READ: Police tortured doctor to death in custody in Egypt

Additionally, the true health status of former presidential candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, (72 years old) remains unknown. His family claims that his life is in danger, having suffered a severe heart attack and being denied receiving medical treatment at his expense.

“The left-wing journalist and activist, Hisham Fouad, who was released last July, wrote on his Facebook page, saying that the elderly sheikh and former presidential candidate (Abouelfotouh) had suffered multiple heart attacks that almost cost him his life, with delayed emergency assistance, routine and bureaucratic treatment, and awaiting officers’ approval to transfer him to the hospital.” On one occasion, he refused to enter the cell in protest against medical negligence; then a large battalion was brought in to force him to enter. It was a heartbreaking scene, an elderly man standing alone, facing dozens of soldiers armed with batons and ready to deal with him.”

As a result of medical negligence, the number of deaths in Egyptian prisons and detention centres has risen to over a thousand inmates from July 2013 until the end of 2022, according to the human rights organisation, Committee for Justice.


Local and international human rights organisations call on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to form a fact-finding committee to visit the Badr Prison Complex and assess the extent of the Egyptian authorities’ compliance with minimum treatment standards for prisoners, as well as take the necessary measures to halt violations against political prisoners.

During his conversation with the Middle East Monitor, Egyptian human rights advocate, Hamdi Ali, criticised the politicisation of the issue, whether through official denial or the opposition’s exaggeration to exploit the situation in anti-El-Sisi regime propaganda. Ali called for the development of a plan to improve the conditions of detainees in prisons and to resolve the issue by releasing thousands of innocent prisoners of conscience who have been unjustly imprisoned for several years, or by demanding fair trials for them.

WATCH: Egyptian rights groups brand Badr prison ‘a slaughterhouse’

From time to time, Egypt’s Interior Ministry organises visits to its prisons, attended by carefully selected parliamentary, human rights and media delegations. These visits are prepared in advance, showcasing inmates playing football, eating grilled food and expressing their happiness within detention centres. This has been widely ridiculed on social media platforms.

In a report published on its website in October 2022, Amnesty International documented that “in Badr 3 Prison, located 70 kilometres north-east of Cairo, prisoners are detained in horrifying and punitive conditions, similar to or even worse than those regularly documented in the notorious Tora Prison complex in Egypt.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.