Public Prosecutor Must Open Immediate Investigations into the Ministry of Interior's Involvement in Fomenting Prison Violence

The Public Prosecutor -
Monday 7 March 2011

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) condemns the involvement of the Ministry of Interior and its subsidiary department, the Prisons Authority, in the killing and injury of prisoners in Egyptian prisoners since the beginning of the Revolution (25 January), and in particular over the last few days. Numerous testimonies attest to the Prisons Authority’s involvement in creating a state of serious unrest in a number of prisons. The EIPR called for an immediate end to the ongoing violence and asked the Public Prosecutor to open an urgent, comprehensive investigation into all the events in question, which should include field inspections of prisons, hearing prisoners’ statements and the immediate referral of victims to forensic examination.

The EIPR has received consistent information from inside three separate prisons in recent days indicating that prison administrations played a suspicious role in fomenting chaos and instability inside these institutions, which led to the death of several prisoners and the injury of dozens more. At the same time, the Interior Ministry has intentionally misled the media with half-truths about the events, contradicted by testimonies obtained by the EIPR from inmates at these prisons.

“The Interior Ministry must stop using excessive violence, put an immediate end to the bloodshed in Egyptian prisons and comply with UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners,” said Magda Boutros, a researcher with the EIPR. “The involvement of the Ministry of Interior in these events violates international human rights conventions and principles, including the UN Convention Against Torture and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.”

In al-Abaadiya Prison in Damanhour, eyewitnesses said that in an unusual move, the prison administration opened the doors to all cellblocks on Wednesday, 2 March, and told the prisoners that whoever wished to leave should do so, after which guards opened fire on them.

In a phone call on Wednesday, one prisoner told the EIPR, “This morning we found all the doors of the cellblocks open and the officers were telling us, ‘Anyone who wants to leave can leave.’ In the whole prison there was only the warden and two officers, the rest weren’t there. The prisoners gathered in the courtyard where the warden tried to calm them down, but some prisoners took him hostage and put a knife at his throat and demanded that he open the main prison gate. As soon as the gate opened, the guards fired live ammunition at the prisoners and then started firing randomly everywhere inside the prison.”

The prisoner said that he personally saw five dead and three injured inmates, but he did not know the total number of victims. He added that some of the bodies had not been moved and were still in the prison.

The EIPR learned that the Damanhour Teaching Hospital registered five cases of death, including Hisham Mustafa and Sabri Ali Abd al-Megid, in addition to three names published in the press (Mohamed Abu Amer, Maher Said and Mahmoud Abd al-Moneim Salman). The hospital also admitted 13 people with serious injuries: Haitham Ali Mohamed Taher, Hossam Abd al-Razeq Abd al-Azizi, Reda Kamal Muslim, Mohamed Abdullah Kamel, Adel Mahmoud Ahmed, Sherif Adel Abd al-Razeq Shaaban, Mohamed Zaki Abd al-Moneim, Fathallah Ashour Fathalla, Kamal Anwar Saad, Ahmed Mahmoud Abd al-Hadi, Tareq Mustafa Salah, Mohamed Ahmed Hammouda and Tamer Mohamed Abd al-Hafez.

The EIPR and the Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor on 3 March asking for an investigation into the killing and injury of inmates at the Damanhour Prison.

The Shebin al-Kom Prison in Monufiya also witnessed serious violence between prisoners over the past few days. Eyewitnesses told the EIPR that violent fights erupted inside the prison in cellblock (B) on Wednesday, 2 March, between inmates from Monufiya and others from Shubra. The witnesses said that the Monufiya inmates attacked the Shubra prisoners with knives, obtained in collusion with the prison administration, which allowed the weapons into the prison.

In a telephone interview, one prisoner told the EIPR, “The administration was standing outside the cellblocks and didn’t intervene. Officer Mohamed al-Gindi and inspector Kamal al-Mougi were just standing there and watching from outside.” Another prisoner stated, “The prisoners are killing each other because they’re hungry. The administration is giving out very little food and water and so prisoners are massacring each other for a sack of rice or macaroni. The administration is standing outside the cellblock and talking with the prisoners from behind the wire, telling them, ‘Finish them off inside.’”

A statement from the Ministry of Interior on 3 March said that a group of prisoners exploited the fight and attempted to create a state of unrest among the rest of the inmates. Some attempted to escape, but were thwarted by security forces. This statement is grossly inconsistent with the story told by the inmates at Shebin al-Kom.

Prisoners at Shebin al-Kom said that the administration raided the cellblocks on Friday, 4 March, using tear gas, live ammunition and guard dogs and forced the inmates in cellblock (B) out into the courtyard, where they tied them together with rope and threw wastewater on them.

This was repeated on Saturday, 5 March, with prisoners in cellblock (A). An inmate in that cellblock said, “They raided the cellblock and entered with tear gas bombs and live ammunition, saying ‘Everybody out!’ Anyone that came out, they took his bedding from him, covered his head and beat him.”

These events took place despite official complaints filed by some inmates’ relatives with the Prisons Authority on Thursday, 3 March, warning that the prison administration had threatened to forcibly enter the cellblocks and asking the authority to guarantee their relatives’ safety inside the prison.

The suspicious conduct of the Prisons Authority was also on display in al-Qatta Prison, located in the Giza governorate, where one inmate died on Friday, 4 March, and others were injured while in the interior courtyard of cellblock (B).

Eyewitnesses told the EIPR that prisoner Hani al-Sayyed Mohamed was shot and killed while another prisoner was injured by a gunshot in his eye. Another source in the prison said that the live ammunition was used while the prisoners were in the interior courtyard of cellblock (B), which is surrounded by a six-meter wall that makes any escape attempt futile. This raises doubts about the Interior Ministry’s true intentions.

The prisoner said that the officer who opened fire was in a watchtower located on one of the prison’s outer walls, which is approximately 12 meters from the interior wall. The source also said that the prisoners refused to give Mohamed’s body to the prison administration, deciding to turn it over to the Public Prosecutor instead.

As usual, the Interior Ministry issued a statement on Saturday, 5 March, saying that a thwarted escape attempt from al-Qatta Prison left one prisoner dead and three more injured.