International demands to reveal the cause of death of Shady Habash in his prison cell in Egypt, and assurances that his death was “arbitrary”
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Three UN Special Rapporteurs expressed their grave concern about the death of Egyptian filmmaker Shady Habash in his prison in early May, and the failure to provide him with the necessary health care which led to his death.
Shady’s death is “arbitrary”
The three rapporteurs stated in a UN memorandum sent to the Egyptian government on 19 June 2020, to which there is no response yet, that the death of Habash was arbitrary. They explained that it may have resulted from the denial of adequate health care, despite the different factual accounts that point to the failure of the prison authorities to provide him with the required medical assistance.
The rapporteurs also expressed their concern that the arrest and detention of Habash may have been in violation of his right to freedom of expression and opinion and the right to the liberty and security of persons.
The rapporteurs stated in their memorandum that the alleged reports suggest multiple violations of human rights, including the violation of the right to health, the lack of due process and arbitrary detention, all of which may be contributing to, and thus resulting in, arbitrary deprivation of life. Death resulting in whole or in part from the denial of medical care is by definition an arbitrary death for which the State is responsible, they said.
The rapporteurs added that to overcome the assumption that the death of Habash was arbitrary, and did not result from actions or omissions attributed to it, the onus is on the Egyptian State.
To rebut the presumption and to meet international norms and standards, the investigation about the causes of death must be thorough, prompt, impartial and transparent, which has not been done, they added.
UN demands revealing the causes of Habash’s death
The rapporteurs called on the Egyptian government to clarify the legal or any other reasons and circumstances for the detention of Habash, and for why he was kept in pretrial detention for over two years, seemingly in violation of Egyptian law.
The rapporteurs also demanded an explanation of why the prison authorities, despite being informed of Habash’s alleged alcohol poisoning, have not administered adequate antidotal treatment, as well as explaining why he was returned to his cell instead of being kept on watch in the prison infirmary or immediately transferred to hospital.
The rapporteurs also called on the Egyptian government to clarify what broader steps, if any, are being taken to respond to the many concerns about inadequate health and other conditions in Egypt’s prisons.
The memorandum also demanded a statement on the chemical composition of the hand sanitizer ingested by Habash, and whether the same hand sanitizer has also been distributed to other inmates of Tora prison, and whether prisoners have been warned against using it beyond its intended purposes.
Death occurred as a result of alleged alcohol poisoning
A song called “Balaha”, released in February 2018, was critical of Egyptian President Abdul Fattah El-Sisi, the state of the Egyptian economy and alleged government corruption.
Habash had remotely worked on the song, but he was not involved in or associated with the content of the lyrics.
Just days after the song’s release, on March 1, 2020, Habash was arrested. He was brought to the Supreme State Security Prosecution four days later and was initially accused of belonging to a terrorist group, spreading false news, abuse of social media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion, and insulting the military, under Case No. 480 of 2018. However, he was never sentenced and his case was never referred to trial.
On May 1, 2020, Habash died in Tora Prison in Cairo. On the next day, his cellmates launched a hunger strike to protest the neglect that they alleged had led to his death.
On May 5, 2020, the Public Prosecution issued the first statement on the death of Habash, claiming that he accidentally drank alcohol mixed with carbonated water and that he died in a prison clinic on 1 May.
The statement referred to methyl alcohol (which is a poisonous substance that is not allowed into Egyptian jails), rather than ethyl alcohol (which can be used as a disinfectant).