Shady Habash, detained for his music video that mocked President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, died in Cairo’s Tora prison after drinking hand sanitiser given to inmates to reduce the spread COVID-19 he had mistaken for water, according to the public prosecutor.
Human rights activists have alleged that Habash’s death was the result of medical negligence.
He the latest in a number of high-profile people to die in custody in Egypt, particularly inside Tora prison.
The 24-year-old had been held for more than two years without trial, accused of membership of a terrorist group and “spreading false news” after he produced a music video critical of the president.
For months observers have been sounding the alarm about the denial of medical treatment to prisoners of conscience, including the deaths in custody of the US citizen Mustafa Kassem and the former president Mohamed Morsi.
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said Habash’s death was the third in 10 months among prisoners of conscience in Tora prison’s cell block number four.
“For over several hours, Shady’s cellmates desperately tried to summon medical help but were ignored by prison officials,” it said. “Such wanton cruelty is hardly exceptional – prisoners of conscience are often left to die in prison without trial or due process, in appalling conditions that include the deliberate withholding of healthcare.”
The public prosecutor said in a statement that Habash visited medical facilities several times for treatment and was returned to his cell, before he was transferred to the prison clinic “unconscious and in a delirious state”.
The statement added that Habash “informed the prison physician that he mistakenly drank a bottle of alcohol a day earlier and claimed he mistook it for a bottle of water”. His cellmates found empty 100ml bottles of hand sanitiser intended to protect them against COVID-19 among Habash’s belongings, it said.
Since Sisi came to power in 2013 thousands of Egyptians have been detained in an unprecedented crackdown on dissent. TV programmes and newspapers have taken the government position and steered clear of criticism, or else disappeared. Many privately owned Egyptian news outlets have been quietly acquired by companies affiliated with the country’s intelligence service.
Habash’s detention and death represent a stark reminder of the growing number of young people at risk inside Egypt’s sprawling prison system, including many detained for their work as artists, making dissenting statements against Sisi’s rule.
There are fears that the COVID-19 could easily spread inside the country’s mammoth prison complexes, proving deadly when combined with the routine medical neglect of inmates.
Egyptian authorities suspended family visits to inmates due to the COVID-19 outbreak in early March, cutting prisoners’ sole means of communication with the outside world as well as their ability to receive clean clothes and additional food. (Source: The Guardian)