He won’t be the last with the persistence of medical neglect in prisons
The public prosecutor must immediately release prisoners who have been held in remand for more than 2 years, prisoners with chronic illnesses and elderly prisoners
16 May 2020
The undersigned human rights organizations condemn the continued medical neglect and decline to provide health care to prisoners that put their lives at risk. The organizations hold the ministry of interior represented by the prison department- and the public prosecution the full responsibility for the death of film maker Shady Habash as a result of neglect by prison officials of saving his life from the methyl alcohol intoxication he suffered in detention – as mentioned in the statement by the public prosecution. Shady has been held in detention for over two years in violation of the law. The undersigned organizations call for a serious, transparent and impartial investigation, involving all parties concerned, to ensure accountability for his death.
The methyl alcohol poisoning which Shady suffered should have been dealt with as a medical emergency that called for his immediate admission into hospital, to be put under constant medical observation, monitoring his vital signs and doing the necessary investigations, together with intravenous fluids, methyl alcohol intoxication antidotes and possible gastric lavage, instead of visiting the prison clinic three times – again according to the statement by the prosecution – giving him an antiemetic and then sending him back to his cell, especially after he showed clear signs of toxicity, such as repeated vomiting, blurring of visions and disturbed level of consciousness.
We also call upon the public prosecutor to issue his orders for the release of Mostafa Gamal, the remaining defendant in Shady’s case, who is still in detention, the release of prisoners held in remand for more than 2 years, without indicting them in new cases, opening am investigation in using remand detention as a punishment in itself and for durations that violate the law.
The organizations emphasize the danger of involving the prosecution and the judiciary to provide a legal pretext for the detention of individuals under the umbrella of remand detention, and to put an end to the revenge and harassment of prisoners of conscience or political prisoners, while stressing the importance of the need for Egyptian authorities to commit to their legal obligations and to provide measures of medical care for prisoners, in accordance with article 24 of the prison regulation bylaws no. 79/1961, which states that “the prison doctor is responsible for undertaking health measures that ensure the safety of prisoners’ health, especially protecting them from infectious diseases, monitoring the quality and sufficiency of food, clothes and textiles provided to prisoners as well as monitoring cleanliness of workshops, sleeping wards and all prison facilities.”
Film maker and photographer Shady Habash (22 years) died in detention on the morning of the 2nd of May 2020, after exceeding two year in remand detention in violation of article 143 of the law of criminal procedures, which limited remand detention to 6 months in misdemeanors, 18 months in felonies and two years if the penalty for the committed crime would be life or the death penalty. However, judicial authorities have been renewing Shady’s – as well as many other political prisoners, without investigation or trial, based on a repeated list of charges that are usually used against prisoners of conscience, political activists and human rights defenders.
Security forces had arrested Shady Habash on the 1st of March 2018. He was presented to the state security prosecution pending high state security case no. 480/2018, facing charges of joining a group established contrary to the law, dissemination of false news and abuse of social media channels.
On May 5, 2020, the Public Prosecution issued a statement reviewing the circumstances of the death of Shady Habash in prison, in which it claimed he was subjected to medical examination as soon as he felt fatigue as a result of drinking a quantity of methyl alcohol – by mistake. The issued forensic report was in support of the above claim, although most likely he was not subjected to a postmortem, which in itself reflects the carelessness towards the health and lives of prisoners. The prosecution report stated that the prison doctor only gave Shady an anti-spasmodic and an intestinal antiseptic, although it was clear he had a serious case of poisoning that required his immediate transfer to hospital, which caused his condition to deteriorate. This necessitated, according to the text of the prosecution’s statement, his re-examination and the consultation of more than one doctor to try to help him after he continued to suffer and his consciousness, pulse and pressure continued to deteriorate. He died before his transfer to the hospital – according to the statement.
According to the information surrounding the incident, prison authorities abstained from timely emergency intervention despite calls by Shady’s cellmates of a medical emergency, who warned of his worsening condition and the necessity of an early hospital. This can be described as a case of death by withholding necessary intervention according to article 238 of the penal code which states that “who mistakenly caused the death of another by neglect, carelessness, impulsivity or non consideration of laws, decrees, regulations and systems will be punished by imprisonment for a minimum of 6 months and/or a fine of a maximum of 200 pounds. The punishment will be between 2 and 5 years and/or a fine between 100 and 500 pounds if the crime is committed as a result of the perpetrator’s breach of the responsibilities of his profession, position or skill or if he was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or a narcotic drug when he committed the mistake which resulted into the incident or abstained at the time of the incident from helping or asking for help for the victim, although it was in his capacity to do so.”
Shady’s death was not the first in that cell. A few months ago Omar Adel had died in the same cell, which raises our concerns regarding the fate of others inside Egyptian prisons: the elderly, those with life threatening illnesses whose condition calls for a hospital transfer outside prison to have the necessary investigations, surgeries or appropriate medical care, while prison authorities do not seem to care for their lives, which puts them at the same risk that Shady faced.
The undersigned organizations remind Egyptian authorities of their legal and humanitarian commitments enshrined in international agreements, the constitution and national legislation regarding the humane treatment of individuals deprived of their freedom and the responsibility of the state to provide health care to prisoners without discrimination on the basis of their legal status. This includes article 11 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), rule no. 24 of the UN Standards Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), as well as articles 33 and 36 of law 396/1956 of prison regulation, which clearly stated the mandatory provision of health care for prisoners inside prison hospitals and their transfer to an outside hospital if the prison hospital is not well equipped.
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Belady Center for Rights and Freedoms
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Committee for Justice
Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
Egyptian Front for Human Rights
El Nadim Center