Egyptian Prisons…. Death Path

Egyptian Prisons…. Death Path

A simple 2.5 metre rope and a narrow cell: all what the Egyptian regime needs to wipe out its opponents or even those who dare to speak out and exceed the limit set by the government for the Egyptian opposition. If the crime did not require killing (for political reasons rather than humanitarian considerations), the victim would be left in detention or released due to some critical diseases that might lead him to his death mentally, psychologically or politically if not physically.

 Horrifying as it is, this introduction is depicting the reality of Egyptian prisons that are deemed a death path for the opposition and where over 18,000 political detainees are being held captive according to reports of Amnesty International.

First, we will give an overview of the Egyptian prisons as introduced by the Egyptian Human Rights Organization in its report on the Egyptian prisons.

* Egyptian Prisons from the Inside


Rule 10 of the minimum limit for prisoners” treatment stipulates: They (the prisons) should be provided with all health requirements, including those relevant to weather, particularly airing, light and heating. When we look at prisons included in the report, we will find the idea of punishment is dominant. Isolating the prisoner and unhealthy living conditions are major features of such prisons.

1- Fayoum Prison:

When selecting a location for building and designing this prison, the ministry of interior took into consideration security measures to prevent prisoners from escaping and to give them the feeling of total isolation and compulsory confinement from outside world. Still, the ministry ignored health, social and psychological needs of those prisoners. The prison is located in Demo, a desert area about 20km away from populated areas and the city of Fayoum which is 90km away from Cairo. The prison was opened on May 17th 1995 where prisoners were transferred from istikbal Torah prison in groups, each comprising 500 prisoners. 2000 detainees joined from other prisons to total prisoners in Fayoum to about 4000. The administration divides prisoners according to their hometowns in twelve departments: 9 for political prisoners, two for criminals and one for disciplinary punishment. All departments cover 1000× 500 metres. And each department includes eighteen cells and two bathrooms. The cells of each department have the H letter shape.

There is place in the prison for physical exercises that is a piece of land paved with concrete alongside five cells and 6 metres wide. The area is walled with barbed wire on top and includes a disciplinary department consisting of fifteen solitary confinement cells each one is 4×6 m and four metres high with concrete walls and floors. The cell has five windows none of them allows suns beams in or fresh air as they are open to inner basements which include the sanitary drainage pipes.

 2- Istikbal Torah Prison:

It is located in Torah prison area. It includes three departments A, B and C in addition to a disciplinary one. The prison includes 1600 detainees. The first two departments have multiple floors with solitary confinement cells in the bottom floor and collective ones in the others. Department C is a one-storey that lacking good ventilation. It is a newly constructed concrete building that is called a maximum security department.

3- Leman Torah Hospital:

The hospital is located inside Leman Torah prison. It is a separate two-storey department of 30× 20 metres. The first is for prisoners with criminal offenses and the second for political ones. Inside the hospital department, there is only one old-fashioned toilet, the other is modern and a sink.

4- Maximum Security Prison:

This prison is located at the far part of Torah prisons compound about 2 km from its gate. Before it, there is Istikbal Torah prison, Torah farm prison and Torah farm annex prison that overlooks the ring road. The maximum security prison was completed on 3051993 and opened on 2661993. It received prisoners from Aby Zaabal, Istikbal Torah and Leman Torah.

The prison includes 320 cells divided into four departments. Each department contains 80 cells on the shape of H. The cells is 2.5× 3 metres wide and 3,5 metres high with one window of 90× 80 cm that is 2.5 m from the ground looking over a walled corridor with a concrete ceiling. The wall has hatchways three metres high from the ground from which air and sun beams indirectly get into the cells as the windows are 1.5 metres from the hatchways. The cell has an iron door which is two metres high and one metre wide with a hatch of 25× 15 cm and 1.5 metre high. Each cell has a 100 watt lamp that is controlled through an outdoor control room.

There is a physical exercise area with a concrete floor covered with dust, shaped like an L at the back of the cells. It is 25 × 15 metres and allocated for 20 cells that are for solitary confinement.

5- Damanhour Prison:

Damanhour prison is located in Al Behirah governorate, 165 km. away from Cairo along the agricultural road and 45 km away from Alexandria. The prison wall is 6 metres high. It is followed with a 5m high barbed wire connected to electricity. The prison includes 12 departments divided as follows: 5 for political prisoners, 3 for criminals, one disciplinary and 3 for women. Political prisoners were admitted as of November 1995 then they transferred to another one leaving behind only those charged with criminal offenses. Since 1997 political prisoners were moved to Damanhour prisoner once again.


6- Aby Zabaal Industrial Prison (Maximum Security Prison):

Abou Zabaal Industrial prison is located at the prisons compound of Aby zabaal and Al Marg and it is about 30km away from Cairo. It can be reached by Ismailia-Cairo agricultural road (Moahdaa road) or Belbeis – Al Sharka road looking over Ismailia canal. The compound gate is on the main road directly and is considered the main entrance of the whole compound. Abou Zabaal Industrial prison is about 500 metres inside that gate at the far end of the compound on the left. This prison is considered one of the newly established as it was constructed at the beginning of 1996. It is on the same road leading to leman torah on the left. There is a security unit that includes police forces and central security forces. The industrial prison is in front of the old one which the prisons authority is currently restoring.

7- Leman Aby Zabaal:

This prison is located at Aby Zabaal prisons compound and is considered closed as visits were prohibited four years ago. Most of the inmates belong to radical Islamic groups. It includes about 160 some of them were sentenced 3-5 years at Talae Al Fath case and case no. 235 of the supreme state security. Some of them are sentenced to 15-25 with hard labour in the tourism case were moved to this prison.

Finally, some of the convicted in Kerdasa group case as well as some leaders of the Islamic groups were also imprisoned there.

8- Wadi Al Natron Prison (1):

This prison is located on the 92 km of Cairo-Alexandria road, 500 metres away from the high road. It was completed in September 1994 and received detainees from Istikbal Torah and Aby Zabaal Industrial prisons. Now the total number of prisoners held in Wadi Al Nartron prison is about 1620.

The prison includes 54 cells divided into three departments for political detainees. Each departments includes 18 cells and two bathrooms. The cells take the H shape with a special area for physical exercise that is five cell long and 6 metres wide and surrounded with walls. The prison also includes disciplinary cells for solitary confinement in departments 1,2 and A. Each cell is 4× 6 metres wide and 4 metres high with concrete walls and floors that are 30 cm thick. Each cell has three hatchways, one is 250× 20 cm above the door with iron bars and grids and the other two at the opposite side each is 100×20 cm 3 metres above the door. These two hatchways do not let sunrays or fresh air inside the cells as they look over each other. The last two hatchways were opened in May 1996 after many prisons had had lung diseases and breathing problems.

9- Wadi Al Natron Prison (2):

It is located on the 97km of the Cairo–Alexandria desert road about 5km. next to Sadat City. The main gate covers 50 metres to the right of the road to Alexandria. The prison is surrounded with a concrete wall that is 7 metres high, 300 metres wide and covers 500 metres. The prison is divided into seven departments, four for political detainees and prisoners and the other three for criminals that are about 1100.

The department is divided into two sections A and B each includes nine cells and each cell has a separate toilet. All departments have no disciplinary rooms except department seven that includes disciplinary cells for both political and criminal prisoners. Prisoners in Wadi Al Natron prison (2), whether being politicians or criminals, are 1400 distributed on 72 cells.

10- Al Wadi Al Gadid Prison:

This prison is located at Al Khargah in Al Wadi Al Gadid governorate about 630 km. away from Cairo. It was opened on 521995. It includes 216 cells divided into twelve departments, eleven for political prisoners and one for criminals. The department is divided into 18 cells. They have the H shape. The cell is 4× 6 metres, 4 metres high with concrete walls, floor and ceiling. Each cell has a 1×1 m. toilet without walls and five windows that are 40×60 cm, 3 metres from the floor and let in no fresh air or sunray in because they look over inner basements with sanitary drainage pipes inside. About 20-25 prisoners occupy each cell.

Egyptian Prisons…Graves for the Living

Bad living conditions in the Egyptian prisons are well known and documented by many Egyptian human rights organizations for being overcrowded, offering poor quality food, no medical care and the high rates of infectious disease. They are also known for their bad records of brutality and torture.

These degrading conditions are an additional type of punishment for inmates in general and political ones, particularly when they refuse to announce their repentance. Hence, conditions become worse affecting the place, food, health care. Cells become overcrowded and detainees are prevented from contacting their relatives. They are denied medicine, food, leaving them to decay and die.

This year and the years before have witnessed suspicious death cases in prisons that became as notorious as police stations and state security premises. In February 2005 alone, six casualties were recorded in different prisons; some of them were in the authorities custody.


The Most important problems facing prisoners in Egyptian jails

Human Rights violations in Egyptian prisons were the main reason behind the spread of diseases in jail. Negligence in following up and the health condition of prisoners and carrying medical checkup necessary, further aggravated infectious diseases in jails. The Egyptian Human Rights Organization has noticed, during its follow up of the jails file, that there are some major factors that led to the spread of diseases including:



Negligence in nutrition always causes the spread of diseases. If we review the nutrition system in jails, we will discover that it is the worst. They rely on beans, lentil soup, cheese, sweet, vegetables and rice. Sometimes, they are served meat and eggs once a week. The food is prepared through boiling in water without oil or salt. Their cooking is very bad as the food is neither clean nor enough. This leads to several cases of malnutrition, poisoning and emaciation. Thus, prisoners have to rely on food their relatives bring for them during visits or through buying from the canteen.

Overcrowded Cells

The average width of a cell in most Egyptian prisoins is about 4x6m with an average number of prisoners of about 15 per cell. Thus, an individual share of the cell is no more than two slabs. There is no doubt that having such a large number of prisoners in a cell of such a small size would lead to the surge of several epidemic diseases and bronchitis.

A cell in most jails has 1×0.5m small ventilation window which does not allow suffice sunray or fresh air in. Water in jails is not provided all the time but only one hour every three days. Prisons rely instead on ground water which is impure and affect kidneys and thus leading to the spread of epidemics. Prisoners, moreover, would not be able to bathe for a longtime. As for cells, they are not usually clean where prisoners’ waste is kept inside cells for a longtime until a passing-by officer orders its removal.

There are no blankets or mattresses for prisoners who sleep on the floor and thus affecting the health of prisoners particularly the old ones. There are also no WCs but rather a 150 cm wall without a selling and with no door and due to lack of cleanliness bad smells prevail casing the spread of diseases. Some prisoners are denied physical exercises for a longtime and thus affecting their legs, bones and psychological condition,

No specialized doctors in prisons

Each prison has a clinic which has a general practitioner who carries out medical examination for most of the cases. He usually provides painkillers for treating most cases.

In critical cases, they are referred to a specialist doctor who rarely comes to the prison as he attends once every three months. In many cases, prisoners fear to go to the clinic for fear of being accused of pretending illness and thus face solitary imprisonment. Even if the prisoner is examined no medicine would be given to him and thus he has to rely on his family for getting medicine. They may also ask doctors held as prisoners to examine them.

The sick held in hospitals suffer from deteriorating health conditions in terms of medical care provided, hospital cleanliness, suitable nutrition and medicine. Hospital admission procedures are complicated. In case of moving a prisoner to the hospital, they are held handcuffed to their beds during their stay in hospital and thus aggravating their health conditions. When a date is set for check up in hospital nobody cares. Some prisoners prefer to stay in their cells rather than going to the hospital to avoid the suffering they face in prison hospitals.

5- Denying visits

Denying prisoners the right to receive visitors usually worsen their heath conditions and their families as well. For instance, prisoners in Abu Za’abal jail suffer from their confinement in 2.5 x 1.2 cells without any water source, suffice ventilation, or fans. They have to stay in their cells for 17 hours and urinate in plastic buckets. Moreover, they were denied visits since 1993 as well as receiving food and medicine. They were also prevented from buying medicine on their own account.

In brief, providing good care and paying, more attention to prisoners’ conditions and cells would eliminate the spread of diseases.

Rights Activists: Egyptian Prisons Death Labs

All politicians and rights activists underlined the necessity of transferring affiliation of prisons to the Ministry of Justice and setting up an independent committee to undertake investigations into the reason behind deterioration in conditions in Egyptian jails as well as activating judiciary role in monitoring jails and detention centers. They also agreed that civil society institution should be allowed to visit all jails to see conditions there. They also called for replacing the current vehicles for moving prisoners from one place to another with more civilized ones. This came during a symposium held by Human Rights National Council under the title “Jail conditions in Egypt” with the participation of a large number of figures concerned with human rights and Ministry of Interior officials.

Dr. Ahmed Kamal Abul Maged, Vice Chairman of the National Council for Human Rights, asserted that human rights violations in Egypt are increasing despite the spread of rights organizations, pointing out that those violations would lead to civil disobedience and a halt to human development. He called for fundamental political reform, criticizing the call of some for restricting reform to the way the president is elected. He warned against violence resulting from lack of dialogue.

Hafez Abu Seada, Secretary of Complaints Committee at the National Council for Human Rights said that prisoners” rights are subject to a series of violations including torture and maltreatment policy as a routine for punishment and extracting admission as well as overcrowded cells, lack of cleanliness, water pollution, denying physical exercises, insufficient food, linking them to the spread of some epidemics such as tubercle and scabies in most jails. Prisoners, moreover, are denied the right to complete their studies, visits or make contacts, describing such acts as a violation of the constitution and international conventions concerning human rights.

He called for setting up an independent national committee to carry out through transparent investigations into the reason behind deterioration in jail conditions in Egypt, adding that it should be empowered to seek information and data necessary and not to be confined to legal matters but rather all political, social and legislative concepts. It will also be entitled to presenting a comprehensive project on reforming Egyptian prisons. He called for abolishing the phenomena of closed jails and calling off repeated detention for political reasons as well as the immediate release of detainees who got final rulings to his end from Egyptian courts.

Dr. Fawzya Abdel Sattar, Professor of Criminal Law at Cairo University lashed out at the already overcrowded prisons in Egypt, where the area allocated for each person ranges from 50 to 70 cm which declines to 30 cm only in case of female prisoners. Prisoners had to rotate sleeping near the urine buckets because cells have no WCs, she said, describing such conditions as degradation to the dignity of prisoners. The Minister of Interior, meanwhile, issued a decree in 1998 to allocate a mattress and a blanket for each prisoner but it has not taken effect ever since.


Dr. Abdul Sattar called for abolishing all short-term punishment sentences (less than one year), particularly as those convicted with such punishments represent a large percentage. This would cut down overcrowded cells and keep those prisoners away from real criminals. She also called for amending criminal procedures law in order to set accurate standards for passing decisions on precautionary detentions that are prevalent although the prisoners are not feared to escape or affect the evidences. She asked for more conciliation attempts before going to court and judicial supervision over execution of verdicts for the current situation makes the penal system the opponent and the judge of the prisoner at the same time.

Lawyer Abdullah Khalil revealed that there are no records of the real number of detainees inside police stations or those under provisional detention even though public prosecution should be informed with that number on daily bases, alluding to excessive use of unofficial detention. There are 190 cases, he added, where defendants are detained and need complete revision to be replaced with other types of punishment. He condemned the failure to hand back items collected evidences from the arrested persons after his release.

Compensation for time spent in provisional custody require very complicated procedures and Mr. Khalil suggests that the judge should be authorized to grant the compensation instead of public prosecution.

Human rights activist, Ehab Sallam stressed that the Public Prosecution did not offer enough protection for the accused particularly in cases of torture. Law stipulates that public prosecution should refer the complaint of a torture victim to the court which has not happened in many cases. Furthermore, victims are afraid of lodging complaints against police officers who tortured them for fear of more torture or harm to their families. He pointed out that the government does not pressure police officers to eliminate the use of torture.

On prison conditions, Ehab said, they are deteriorating because they are sealed for years and no one knows what happens inside. He stressed that lack of potentialities should not be taken as a pretext not to improve prisoners” conditions. Many rights do not need potentialities for the Interior Ministry to grant them to prisoners.

Hussien Mohamed Ibrahim, a lawmaker of the Muslim Brotherhood bloc, said that patching up conditions in prisons is no longer a solution, calling for a new legislation to maintain human rights. He alluded to a very serious issue that is the failure to apply current legislation, citing the visit he made along with a fact-finding committee set up by the People”s Assembly to visit Torah Farm jail following the martyrdom of Engineer Akram Zuhairi. The committee unveiled that the detainees were taken from their prisons without the Prosecution Authorities” prior permission. Prisoners said that they were tortured, terming such act as a violation of the criminal procedures law and the law regulating conditions in prisons.

Tarek Khater, Vice Chairman of Human Rights Legal Assistance Society, called for setting special premises for holding children away from adults to avoid sexual assaults on them or taking their properties. He warned against the spread of drugs in Egyptian prison. He cited a study issued in 1985, which asserted that 95% of prisoners take drugs. 89% of them are drug addicts and 16 percent take drugs to please their inmates. He accused prisons administration of increasing the percentage of drug addicts in prisons.

Famous Death Cases in Egyptian Prisons

In this part we state the most famous cases of death inside the Egyptian prisons which the Egyptian authorities claimed that they hanged themselves while all evidence indicated otherwise.

“Kamal Al Din Al Sananiry”..

Kamal Al Din Al Sananiry is a leading Ikhwan (brotherhood) activist and is deemed the most prominent figure who was announced dead and as usual the authorities claimed that he hanged himself inside his cell.

* Al Sanairy in Brief:

Born in Cairo in 1918.

Arrested after the Manshiah incident in 1954.

Remained in detention for twenty years until released in 1974.

After the notorious September decisions issued by Al Sadat in 1981, he was arrested again.

He was brutally tortured till he met his end in 1981.

* His Detention and Assassination:

After escalating opposition against peace agreements with the Zionist enemy, President Sadat issued in September 1981 his notorious detention decisions against his political opponents whom were dragged to prisons. Al Sananiry was brutally tortured to extract information from him about the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. His feeble body – he was over sixty – could not bear such horrors and his death was announced on November 8th 1981. A rumour was spread that he committed suicide by tying his neck with a towel to the sink and kept pulling until he died. In the morning, they claimed, the prison keeper discovered the body and the medical examiner confirmed the reason for his death.

There was controversy over this case lately after consultant Ali Grishah (Ikhwn (brotherhood) leader and an ex detainee) announced that he has hard evidence condemning major general Fouad Allam for being involved in the killing of Al Sananiry.

Soliman Khater:

He is Soliman Mohammed Abdul Hamid Khater, born in Akiad village in Sharkia governorate. He was the youngest of five children: two sons and two daughters.

He joined mandatory military services like many others and was recruited as a private in the central security forces of the Ministry of Interior.

He was a young man who was doing his military service in 1985 in Taba after being liberated when one day he was performing his prayers a bus went by with a number of Israelis inside. They went down near him and started to make fun of him and some of them tried to force their way inside Egyptian boarders. When he refused, they insulted Egypt and spitted on the flag. Khater was so furious that he shot seven of them dead.

After the incident, Khater gave himself up and instead of being rewarded for performing his duty he was referred to the court based on the emergency law. He was referred to the military court instead of civil one as he is a policeman, Soliman”s lawyer contested the presidential decree, demanding his trail before a civil court. But, his contest was turned down.

After examining Soliman a psychological report was issued to point out that he is “somewhat mentally unfit” and he was sentenced for 25 years in prison with hard labour.

Then he was transferred to the prison”s hospital under the pretext of treating him from bilharisia. On the ninth day of his imprisonment, Soliman Khater died.

State-owned national newspapers’ headlines, under the signature of the state security, came as follows: “He committed suicide by hanging himself from three-metre-high window”.

Those who saw the body said that suicide was not the only possible reason because the body had sings of strangle with something like a thin wire in addition to broses on the leg because of dragging or beating up.

An official statement indicated that the suicide was done by the bed plastic sheet then Al Mosawer magazine said that it was a regular bed sheet. Forensic experts indicated that the suicide was done by a piece of cloth used by elite forces. After all what was said Soliman’s family filed an application demanding reexamination of the body by an independent committee to find out the reason behind his death. The application was turned down raising more doubts that killing was the most probable cause of death than suicide.

Akram Al Zoheiri

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement on Wednesday 962004 announcing the death of one of its member Eng. Akram Abdul Aziz Al Zoheiri (38 years old, a father of three children) while under custody. Al Zoheiri was one of 54 members of the group held for organizing protests against the assassination of the founder of Hamas Sheik Ahmad Yassin and his successor Dr. Abdul Aziz Al Rantisi. The statement pointed out that an official of the Ministry of Interior unveiled Al Zoheiri’s death in a meeting of the People Assembly’s National Security Committee while refuting charges against the ministry of torturing defendants belonging to MB at the Nasr City premises of the state security. The official said that he “died in hospital” without giving any further details on the circumstances for taking him to the hospital.

The MB statement stressed that: “he was severely injured while being transferred from the state security premises to jail. He was left in a serious condition without giving him proper medical care for ten days even though his inmates asked for help as he was about to die. No measures were taken to save him until he met his end because of his injury. The jail administration denied him and his colleagues their visiting rights by their relatives or lawyers despite district attorney’s permission.”

Mosaad Kotb

Mosaad Kotb died under torture and among his torturers at the state security branch in Gaber Ibin Hayan st, Giza. Kotb died (an accountant at the Syndicate of Engineers) four days after his arrest and detention at the state security premises at Giza. Public Prosecution ordered to submit his body to his family and he was buried under maximum security measures on Thursday 16112003. More than one area lodged complaints to the public prosecution asking for investigations and none received any answer till date.

Convicted Spy Sherif Al Felaly Died in Prison

Security sources declared on Monday 272007 that an Egyptian citizen convicted with spying for Israel died in prison.

Sherif Al Felali was sentenced in 2002 for 15 years with the charges of espionage for Israel. Another verdict was issued against the Russian citizen with life imprisonment for 25 year. Egyptian authorities said that the Russian agent recruited Al Felali in Europe to work for Israeli intelligence. The sources said that reasons of Al Felalti’s death were still unclear.

An Egyptian court cleared Al Felali in 2001 but President Mobarak, in his capacity as a martial ruler, refused to authorize the verdict. Al Felali received a retrial and was convicted.

Authorities claimed that Al Felali, in his early forties, handed over to the Israeli intelligence military, economic and tourist information.

Ayman Ismail

The body of Ayman Ismail, the defendant accused of forging powers of attorney for Al Ghad Party, was found hanged on the door of his cell at the appeal prison which caused panic among other political prisoners, such as ex leader of Al Ghad Party Ayman Nour… Ayman Ismail’s family was horrified for the unexpected shock.

All these cases bring to memory late President Abdel Naser era at the sixties when hundreds died under detention due to torture but the government claimed that they escaped and buried them in the desert.

The death record in Egyptian prisons remains open till further notice.

* Report of the Egyptian Human Rights Organization on Egyptian prisons