Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused Egyptian authorities of making modifications to Cairo’s Maximum Security Prison 992, known as Scorpion Prison, that amount to “collective punishment” of inmates following a suspicious incident that left four policemen and four inmates dead.
Construction workers made changes inside the maximum security correction facility last month that deprives inmates of adequate ventilation, electricity and hot water, according to a statement from the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Workers also removed the wall-mounted ventilators from each cell and electric sockets that inmates used to heat water for drinking and showering, the statement said.
They also replaced the window bars in each cell with steel mesh and modified door slits in a way that obstructs potential communication among prisoners.
The intensified restrictions were implemented mid-November following a suspicious incident on September 23 in the prison in which four security force members and four inmates were killed.
The international rights group cited a three-page letter and a 13-minute video that were smuggled out of the prison in describing the changes.
Human Rights Watch and other organizations have long documented grave abuses inside Scorpion Prison, which currently holds between 700 and 800 prisoners, such as a blanket ban on family visits since March 2018 and early 2019.
“Egyptian authorities are apparently imposing collective punishment on hundreds of inmates in Scorpion Prison, after cutting them off the world for almost three years” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“Conditions in this prison are utterly incompatible with the rights of prisoners.”
Scorpion Prison is located inside Cairo’s Tora Prison Complex. “It was designed so that those who go in don’t come out again unless dead,” Major General Ibrahim Abd al-Ghaffar, a former Scorpion warden, said during a television interview in 2012. “It was designed for political prisoners.”
Since the military takeover in 2013, the government has used it to incarcerate many leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as other high-profile political prisoners.
Human Rights Watch previously documented in a 2016 report the cruel and inhumane treatment by Scorpion officers that probably amounted to torture, including prolonged isolation, months or years-long deprivation of exercise and visits, and beatings.
At least 14 Scorpion inmates have died since 2015, according to research by Human Rights Watch and other human rights and media reports. Insufficient medical treatment probably contributed to the deaths of five of those inmates.
Amnesty International documented one Scorpion death from torture in 2019 and the Committee for Justice, a Geneva-based human rights group, documented another in 2018.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent organization, has documented how keeping inmates from having visitors affects other inmates’ rights such as their ability to obtain clothes, blankets, and medicine.
The EIPR said the Scorpion Prison inherently violates the basic rights of prisoners as codified in the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules).
Additionally, prison authorities routinely deprive inmates of access to education, adequate health care, and visits by families and lawyers. (Source: HRW)