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The Egyptian Ministry of Interior has announced the resumption of visits to all public prisons and penitentiaries across the country, in accordance with specific controls and a new regulation it had established, claiming that it is related to the precautionary and preventive measures to protect inmates from infection with the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Although CFJ welcomes this decision issued after the closure of visits for nearly six months, during which detainees and prisoners have suffered various kinds of violations, foremost among which was the medical negligence that claimed the lives of at least 50 detainees and prisoners, (prisoners and detainees in cases of a criminal and political nature), during that closure period, based on CFJ report, the organisation expresses its concern that the decision is only another step implemented by Egyptian authorities to tighten the pressure on detainees and exacerbate suffering for them and their families, by adopting a new visitation system instead of facilitating the current one to ensure that prisoners and detainees have access to their full right to visit and communicate with the outside world.
According to the new regulation approved by the Egyptian Ministry of Interior, the visit permission is booked by a phone call to the prison or the penitentiary, providing contact details about the caller, the name of the prisoner, and the degree of kinship, while the detainees’ families are notified of the date set for the visit during the phone call. The decision added that the duration of the authorized visit is 20 minutes, only one time per month, for one person per visit, and with the commitment of visitors to wear masks and adhere to safe social distancing during the visit.
With the implementation of the new decision, CFJ recorded many complaints about the poor quality of communications, and the lack of responses by some prison administrations, while some prisons have not yet implemented the new instructions.
CFJ condemns this new decision due to its violation of the third rule of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), which stated that prison systems and regulations should not be approved except within the limits of justifications for isolation or the maintenance of discipline, and that they should not exacerbate the suffering inherent in such a situation. We also condemn the decision’s violation of some articles of the internal regulations of Egyptian prisons.
Ahmed Mefreh, director of CFJ, has explained that this decision contradicts Article 4, paragraph 1, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which granted states the right to take some measures in states of emergency and in the narrowest limits, provided that these measures do not contradict other obligations arising from them under international law, and that they do not involve discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion or social origin, which is where this decision was in violation of the text of the article, as well as the basic principles that must be applied in order to establish justice during states of emergency.
CFJ warns Egyptian authorities that disciplinary or restrictive measures must not include preventing or restricting prisoners from contacting their families, except during a limited period of time and within the narrowest necessary limits, which is not implemented by the Ministry of Interior even nearly six months after banning the visits.
It is noteworthy that this new decision came two days after the death of the Egyptian politician and parliamentarian, Essam Al-Erian, in his prison cell, at the maximum-security Scorpion prison, due to the denial of health care, and poor living standards inside prison.
Based on the measures taken by the Ministry of the Interior in dealing with the death case, and the circumstances that followed it, up to burying him under strict security measures, and allowing a limited number of his family members to attend the burial, while preventing their access to the body, the organization doubts the credibility of the Egyptian Attorney General’s statement that his death was natural. CFJ believes that there is something that the Ministry of Interior wanted to conceal through these arbitrary measures, and it calls for an independent and impartial investigation into the incident of Al-Erian’s death.