Detained Egyptian activist critically ill, says rights group


Egyptian authorities are called upon by Human Rights Watch on Thursday to immediately provide jailed pro-Muslim Brotherhood activist Aisha al-Shater with critically needed medical care, allow her family visits, and release her if there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Prison authorities have kept al-Shater, 39, in abusive detention conditions for more than a year, including months of solitary confinement and over a year without family visits. Authorities allowed her two short hospital visits in October 2019 but took her back to solitary confinement, according to the rights group.

Doctors believe she has aplastic anemia and bone marrow failure, serious medical conditions that can be life-threatening and require expert medical care. Of particular concern is a heightened risk of infection due to low white blood cell counts.

“As if arbitrary arrest was not enough, Aisha al-Shater has had to endure inhumane prison conditions and her family has been living in anguish knowing almost nothing about her health,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Now, faced with a medical crisis, prison authorities should ensure she receives sufficient care by independent doctors,” Stork added.

Police and National Security Agency officers in November 2018 arrested around 40 lawyers and humanitarian activists and volunteers, including al-Shater and her husband, lawyer Mohamed Abu Hourayra, who were active with the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms.

A relative told Human Rights Watch that one reason she was arrested is that her father, Khairat al-Shater, imprisoned since 2013, was the deputy chairman of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Sources close to al-Shater’s family said that in October 2019, prison authorities transferred her to Cairo University’s Qasr al-Aini hospital twice for medical treatment. On October 08, al-Shater was admitted for two days and then on October 31, she was readmitted for a week. Before being transferred to Qasr al-Aini, she apparently suffered acute episodes of fatigue and severe bleeding.

On November 25, after a public outcry, Prosecutor-General Hamada al-Sawy ordered the State Security Prosecution to open an investigation into al-Shater’s complaints about lack of appropriate medical care. The family said they learned through some inmates that al-Shater was transferred to the prison hospital a few days after that, but they were not able to get in touch with her.

The relative said that prison authorities have not allowed the family to officially obtain medical records for al-Shater or information on her condition. The relative said the little information they had was after she spoke with her lawyer briefly during a detention renewal hearing on November 07.

In 2017, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government introduced amendments to prison laws that provide for up to six months in solitary confinement. Such prolonged solitary confinement can amount to torture.

In November 2019, two UN experts said that Egypt’s abusive detention conditions “may be placing the health and lives of thousands more prisoners at severe risk” and that such abuses including lack of sufficient medical care “may have directly led” to the death of former President Mohamed Morsy.

“The Prosecutor General’s order to investigate al-Shater’s complaints is meaningless without ensuring she is able to receive appropriate, sufficient medical care and communicate with her family and lawyers,” Stork said. (Source: HRW)