At least 14 dead as COVID-19 spreading in Egypt's prisons: HRW

Rights group says its report based on witness accounts, leaked letters from prisons and reports by local rights groups.

At least 14 prisoners and detainees have died from likely COVID-19 complications in scantly-monitored outbreaks of the disease at Egyptian detention centres, according to the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The United States-based rights group said its report on Monday was based on witness accounts, leaked letters from prisons and reports by credible local rights groups. It covered the period until July 15.

“Even though scores of prisoners and detainees, at a minimum, have shown mild to severe COVID-19 symptoms, prisons had insufficient medical care and virtually no access to testing for the virus or symptom screening,” HRW said, noting the deaths had occurred in 10 detention centres.

The rights group said prison authorities “appear to have done no contact tracing measures and have done little to isolate prisoners who show symptoms”.

Guards in at least three prisons had refused to allow inmates to source or wear masks, it added.

Information about the health situation in Egyptian prisons is strictly controlled by the authorities.     

HRW said Egypt had released some 13,000 prisoners since February, but this was “insufficient to ease overcrowding in congested prisons and jails”.

“Egyptian authorities should take immediate steps to provide everyone in detention with adequate medical care and measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.

“It is essential for Egypt to address the spread of the virus by accelerating prisoner releases.”

Journalist’s death

The report came days after the death of Egyptian journalist Mohamed Monir who contracted COVID-19 during pretrial detention.

The 65-year-old was arrested last month after appearing on Al Jazeera, a Qatar-based media network banned by the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He was released from detention on July 2 due to his sickness but died on July 13.

Monir was suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and serious heart problems, according to the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Egypt’s Ministry of Interior has banned prison visits by inmates’ relatives since early March. 

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