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Egyptian journalists detained in Scorpion Prison dying 'slow death'

Date of publication: 28 February, 2016

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Egypt's press syndicate has filed a complaint over inhumane conditions of imprisoned journalists, with nine beginning a hunger strike in protest at a lack of food, clothing and proper ventilation.

Egypt's press syndicate has filed a complaint over "abuses" against journalists detained in the notorious 'Scorpion' Prison, south of Cairo.

The organisation has demanded that authorities release the imprisoned journalists, and called for those detained in Scorpion Prison to be transferred to another detention facility.

According to a statement by the syndicate, the complaint was filed after families of prisoners spoke out against the "slow death" of the detained journalists. 

Prisoners have said they basic living conditions such as proper ventilation, adequate food, clothing and medicine.

Yehia Qallash, head of the press syndicate, told Aswat Masriya that he was expecting a ruling in favour of the journalists, in response to the syndicate's complaint.

"We are doing the best we can for our colleagues," he said.

Qallash also emphasised the detained journalists' right to serve their prison sentences under "normal conditions".

In an open letter submitted to the syndicate on Thursday, the families of nine detained journalists announced that the prisoners had started a hunger strike to protest against "mistreatment and poor living conditions in detention".

Khaled al-Balshy, head of the syndicate's freedoms committee, told Egyptian website Mada Masr on Friday that the open letter echoed a joint statement made by wives of the imprisoned journalists. 

"The violations committed against them, including solitary confinement, lack of ventilation inside prison wards, as well as lack of food, medications and warm clothes for winter," it read.

Conditions in Egyptian prisons have been largely under scrutiny by local and international human rights organisations.

In its 2015/16 annual report, Amnesty International described conditions in Egyptian detention facilities and police stations as "extremely poor".

"Cells were severely overcrowded and unhygienic, and in some cases officials prevented families and lawyers giving food, medicine and other items to prisoners," the report said.

Egyptian security authorities have also been blamed for torturing prisoners, sometimes to death.

Cells were severely overcrowded and unhygienic.
- Amnesty International

In an earlier report, Amnesty International said that torture and other ill-treatment of criminal suspects were "routinely used to extract confessions and punish and humiliate suspects", reportedly leading to several deaths of detainees.

"Commonly reported methods of torture included electric shocks to the genitals and other sensitive areas, beating, suspension by the limbs while handcuffed from behind, stress positions, beatings and rape," the report added.

"Deaths in detention were reported, with some apparently attributable to torture or other ill-treatment or inadequate conditions in police stations."

However, torture allegations have been repeatedly denied by state-run rights organisations.

In August 2015, Mohamed Fayek, the president of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), announced that all Egyptian prisons were "completely free of systematic torture".

"But the fact that systematic torture has ended does not mean that there is no torture at all," he said.

"It can still happen. After all, we are human," he added, emphasising the council's right to visit prisons.

"We will continue to visit prisons to ensure the elimination of torture, a crime that had been endemic here for a long time."

Known as Egypt's most notorious detention facility, Scorpion prison is a maximum-security facility. Located in Torah prison complex on the outskirts of Cairo is has been used to detain political prisoners.

The construction of the prison, which was opened in 1993, was supervised by Mubarak-era interior minister Habib al-Adly, and based on US high security facilities.

It was also used in the US abduction and torture programme of the last decade.

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