Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
June 4, 2020.
Mr. Mohamed Fayek
President of the National Council for Human Rights
69 Giza St. – next to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Cairo, Egypt.
Respectful Mrs. Fayek,
AFTE is a Human Rights organization, registered as a Law Firm since 2006. It works on promoting Freedom of Expression and the Right to Information. Mainly, its concern issues are Press Freedom, Freedom of Creativity, Digital Rights, Academic Freedom, Students Rights, and Freedom of Information. Also, AFTE provides all necessary legal aid for the victims of Freedom of Expression violations.
In light of the global pandemic outbreak that has killed nearly 300,000 people worldwide and its unprecedented spread among millions of people across the countries. This situation has prompted most countries to curb the virus spread and maintain public health by imposing several exceptional measures without discrimination. The Egyptian state has also implemented such measures. It has imposed a partial lockdown on movement freedom, entirely suspended all education institutions. Moreover, it has ordered closing the mass, entertaining, social gatherings places such as theaters and malls.
However, Egyptian prisons have still crowded with an immense number of prisoners and pretrial detainees. In addition, most of prisons and detention places lack the basic requirements for maintaining the prisoners’ public health, for instance, overcrowding accommodation, poor nutrition, the absence or poor sanitation (toilets), lack of hygiene, lack of proper cells ventilation, and depriving a large number of prisoners from their right to outdoor exercise. Thus, these conditions have to be reconsidered, guided by the Preventive Health Standards to curb outbreaks of disease inside such closed settings that are more vulnerable to the infection spread.
Acknowledging that the prisons already suffer inadequate health care system regarding the quality of health services delivery, the insufficient number of doctors and nursing staff compared to the prisoners’ population, irregular presence of doctors and nursing, the inefficiency of some health service providers. Besides it is challenging to provide the necessary health care services for prisoners with health issues priority, if available.
Building on the above-mentioned, AFTE is deeply concerned with the high probability of a real infection spread catastrophe in the Egyptian prisons. This situation would affect not only the prisoners but also all workers or visitors from the Ministry of Interior members, their families, and hence the whole society.
Giving the dramatic upward curve of Covid-19 infections and deaths in Egypt the past two weeks, adding the responsibilities and powers given to the National Council for Human Rights, and its duty to preserve and protect human rights in Egypt. Which the Right to Life is its heart. AFTE calls on the National Council for Human Rights to;
- Shoulder its lawful responsibilities, and demanding the Public Prosecution to release the detainees who are not posing a threat to the society. Primarily, the prisoners of conscience, considering replacing remand in custody with precautionary measures, in cases of necessity.
- Review cases of detainees who have exceeded the two-year pretrial detention, the maximum period allowed by the law, which requires their release immediately.
- Review cases of who were re-charged in new lawsuits, after ordering their release due to exceeding the two-year detention, pending investigations in previous lawsuits. As most of these new lawsuits have charged them with the same accusations that they were previously cleared. And demanding the cessation of such recycling practice against Freedom of Expression prisoners and the release of them immediately.
- Step up unannounced inspections for a sample of Egyptian prisons to check and monitor health care delivery in all cells, and the compliance of prisons’ administrations with the Preventive Health Standards that curb infections spread.
- Monitor, regularly, conducting the necessary medical tests to detect any Corona infections among the prisoners, and evaluating the health care system performance in handling them or suspicious symptoms, if any.
- Require the Prison Service to provide regular access to telephones for prisoners/detainees to reach out to their families/attorneys. After it has suspended visits in order to control virus spread among prisoners.
Kindly find attached AFTE’s list of the Freedom of Expression detainees, which includes lawsuits’ numbers, charges, and detention periods.
Also, attached the joint interim guidance by OHCHR and WHO on preparedness, prevention, and control of COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention.