• Arts
  • October 30, 2009
  • 17 minutes read

Ala’qrab (The Scorpion), capital of Egyptian prisons, highly secured and brutal

Ala’qrab (The Scorpion), capital of Egyptian prisons, highly secured and brutal
The idea of making a series of highly secured prisons was proposed by a group of officers after they returned from a training mission for five years in the US, during which they were trained by the FBI. The Ministry of Interior believed the idea was an innovation and sufficient to meet what it considered as “defects” in its strategy with armed groups in particular.
During 1991, former Ministry of Interior, Hassan al-Alfi and a group of his assistances, including Major-General Habib al-Adli, assistant Minister for State Security Affairs at that time, started the preparation for the immediate implementation of these “American” ideas. The breakthrough in the same year was from Tora prison, which is highly guarded and known to detainees as the Scorpion prison.
Building the “Scorpio” took two years to be completed on 30/5/1993. It consists of 320 cells divided into 4 horizontal wards in the shape of the H letters. Each cell has a100-Watt bulb controlled by the penal policy of the prison’s management. 
The management would cut off water, light and electricity and closes the windows as it wishes. On the other hand there is an area of 25 meters – 15 meters in the form of the L letter and this area is used for sports and running sometimes.  In this prison, 20 cells get used as disciplinary wards for political detainees where they deprive them from lighting and speaking.
Immediately upon completion of building the prison, the Ministry of Interior set schedules for the transfer of detainees from “Liman, Istekbal Tora and Abu Zaabal” to the new prison for the opening day of the Scorpion prison on 26.06.1993 to include 1500 detainees from Old Tora and the area around it, where they were deported to the new highly secured cell. The opening day was attended by “al-Adli”, the active Assistant Minister, who made sure the new prison would be successful in terms of hiding detainees and their interrogation in various ways.
The Scorpion, or the highly-secured Tora, is 2 kilometers away from the gateway to the official Tora prison. It is the last cluster in the famous series of Torah prisons and its location , although it is at the end of the place, is distinctive as it is surrounded with a high wall of seven meters height and  armored gates and the offices of the officers are all behind iron bars.
Each ward, high-security, becomes totally separate from the rest of the prison once its external armored gate closes which makes detainees unable to even communicate through the cells, unlike the rest of detainees in ordinary, due to the  huge amounts of concrete which the sound.
The break, which is only equivalent to 25 meters walking on solid concrete finishes at 3:00pm and all the doors of the cells gets closed. “Note that wards were already closed from the beginning”.
Mahmoud Ali al-Abbasi, a detainee who had been released months ago, says “the break wasn’t for all, 20 cells only were allowed to walk in the concrete corridor, and all of them were in one ward. Most of them were “repentants” as the Ministry of Interior likes to call them. They have signed tons of documents condemning violence since the late 90’s, however, did not see the sun until now”.
Mahmoud narrates his story “I was arrested in 1991 with a group of young people in the red corner’s area with charge of affiliating to Talae Fatah Organization, although the judiciary acquitted me since I was not a member of the organization and the only thing I did is praying regularly in “al-Qoddus mosque” and I never heard the name of this organization, nor the charge except after eight months of detention and torture at State Security headquarters.
From Talae al-Fatah to Jihad and Islamic groups … a sting of a Scorpion is deadly.
The prison of Tora, the Scorpion, collected all those charged of political violence, starting from Talae al-Fatah to al-Jihad and the Islamic groups and even the few cells of the jihadist Salafi.
the security dealing with the Scorpion and the way of its management remained like a military secret because since the time it opened in 1993 until the beginning of the millennium, everyone was speaking very cautiously about the officers working in the prison, especially since the Ministry of Interior refused to entrust the management of public security or the prisons with any real missions within the Scorpion where many of the Special Forces officers came consecutively and the most known of all at that time is Colonel Omar Atwa who was an officer in the Special Forces in the area of Tora prisons and was the Head of the Scorpion’s Forces since the time it opened until 1995.
One of the Scorpion’s former detainee, who asked to keep his name anonymous, said “it is usual for the Ministry of Interior to start the arrest journey with a horrific reception party, but as I was detained before in Tora and Liman Abu Zaabal I expected a reception party in the new prison “the Scorpion” and what I expected happened, however it was one of the most horrible and terrifying parties I have been through. We got off the deportation car with police dogs, then they forced us to lie on the ground for half an hour, then some security personnel came and took off our cloths and told us to pass through two columns of police and dogs. Each policeman was holding a thick stick, electric cable or a crawler and they started beating us up with us for an hour and a half until we all collapsed.
With a mixture of sadness and anger he carried on saying “during the reception party which I attended since I was deported to the Scorpion, some detainees tried to stand up again after they were in so much pain because of the beatings and the party took longer… the orders are clear.. the party only ends when all detainees fall on the ground and show no resistance, so we used to beg those detained with us to remain on the ground after the beating… because
 the Pasha likes to  see us when we are on the ground.
Colonel Omar Atwa, was only the starting point in the series of officers who led the prison, as provided in the reports of the Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners. The Colonel who was servings the Ministry of Interior sincerely in the Scorpion was promoted to the rank of Brigadier and was transferred in the late 1997following a revolt within the new Valley Prison “The Whale’s belly” where the same scenario was repeated.
Since 2002 the Ministry of Interior started “vaccinating” the prison’s forces with State Security officers and State Security Investigation officers as well as special forces officers and Central Security officers who are always present in all highly secured prisons and in the Scorpion and the Whale’s belly and Fayoum prison in particular. 
State Security Investigation officers appeared for the first time in the administration of the Scorpion in May 2002, while State Security officers who were in the prison since the beginning expanded their activities and had been allocated 6 air-conditioned investigation offices investigated beside each office an empty room which has nothing but torture tools and electric shocking devices, according to the detainee Kareem Mohammed, which “al-Badeel newspaper” got this news from his family.
“I was deported to the highly secured prison of Tora, the Scorpion, in 1999 after I had a medical report I was transferred to the hospital of Central Tora prison to have an operation in the Testicles, which I suffered from in the New Valley and al-Fayoum prisons as a result of torture. After the operation and recovery I was informed by some officers that my im going to be detained in the Scorpion”, Kareem added “during that time we were calling the Ministry of Interior to release those detained Talae al-Fajr, Islamic Jihad, and some other small groups such as the True Promise and others, especially since the majority have signed the so-called adoption of repentance since 1994,  however, the Ministry of Interior only released 10 of them until 2002 and most of them were suspected to have worked with the administration of the prison".
"As soon as I entered the Scorpion, given the conditions of my sickness, I expected an ordinary investigation in my cell as I was totally unable to walk, but I was surprised to see four officers forcing me to walk and when I explained to them that I am unable to walk the tied my left leg with cuffs and dragged me for over 100 meters until I fainted and woke up on the sound of one of the Pashas cursing me “…”. 
Karim stayed quite for a while then continued his speech saying “through the investigation and the way of questioning I knew that the investigator was a State Security officer so I told him about my sickness and that I am still in the period of recovery and told him also that I was sent to the Scorpion only after 48 hours of the operation. His reaction was that he started beating me up severely without any justification then I was dragged to a room with a door that opens from inside the officer’s office and I was beaten by some security guards with sticks then they tied one of the wires in a sensitive area and the other wire in my chest and electrocution continued for one hour during which I fainted many times while screaming and 
asking what is the reason behind all this torture.
Husneya Mohamed Shawqi, Kareem’s mother narrated to us “my son was arrested when he was 19 years-old, and I never knew anything about him except from some families of detainees who were visiting their detained relative in the Hospital of Tora and one of them told me that Kareem was deported to the Scorpion and he is worried about his life there because of the bad reputation of the prison. 
After that I had a chronic high blood pressure and became ill with diabetes and until now I know very little about his news in the visits that are often denied and even this certificate which is being published in the newspapers for the first time got out of prison by a miracle.  
1500 detainee remain in prison with no charges, no visits and no medications…nothing but torture
Stories about torture in the Scorpion are endless, although the highly secured Tora prison “the Scorpion” is still among closed prisons, where visits and medications are completely denied of detainees due to the Minister of Interiors decision until 2003.
The Human Rights Association for the Welfare of Prisoners described the period which followed the decision in its reports on the conditions of closed prisons in Egypt in 2001 that the Scorpion and what happens inside it as an “unjustified revenge” where the Ministry of Interior became severly violent during the late 90’s against detained members of armed organizations in most of the Egyptian prisons, especially in the Scorpion, where search campaigns became repeated many times a month after it used to be four times only a year. In these campaigns hundreds of officers stand with their weapons in the field of the Scorpion and order detainees to get out of their cells.
Once they get out the worst collective torture campaign begins by State Security officers, armed soldiers and dogs. During the search they hit different parts of the body and expose detainees to be bit by dogs as well as making detainees stand totally naked especially in winter.
The report also mentioned that in order to increase the suffering of detainees, hundreds of soldiers repeat in one voice an anthem written by officers from the Interior, which says:
Move away chick, move away chick, let the striking forces pass
Who is my age, what is my age, in the name of Allah we will knock him down
We will teach you how to love your country and how to obey your rulers
After that soldiers start to destroy the personal belongings of detainees of plates and covers which they had bought from their own money as the administration of the prison does not give out any covers or anything necessary for detainees, although most of them had signed on the so-called adoption of repentance many years ago.
On the other hand, a report on prisons in Egypt prepared by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) stressed that there are 1500 political detainees in the Scorpion –according to the organization- 1600 are detained with no charges and they were acquitted  most of the cases filed against them since the 90’s, and despite the passage of 15 years since the opening of the Scorpion and five years for opening the door for visits, there are many detainees who are detainees with no charges and the Ministry of Interior has succeeded in hiding them for all these years.
Gamal Fahmy, member of the Journalists Syndicate and a former detainee at the Farm of Tora prison said “even though when I was in the Farm of Tora, away to some extent from what happens in the Scorpion, but I have heard about stories about the brutality and violence in the Scorpion. 
Once a prison officer –Fahmy preferred not to mention his name- told me when I was detained in 1998 that 15% of the detainees in the highly secured prison have died as a result of continued torture there. The officer himself commented saying that this percentage in such prisons is known to the Interior, where there is no supervision or monitoring at all, as there is, according to what I have heard from some detainees, a real chopper that eradicates the humanity of detainees. All kinds of torture tools are available there and it depends on the officer.
Fahmi wonders “if the only way the Ministry of Interior has when dealing with young people whether they were going to be involved in possible violent projects is the brutal way, does the Interior and the society expect those who leave the Scorpion to become good citizens? Or would they become terrorists who are deeply and logically motivated by the desire for revenge?