March 1, 1992

Middle East Watch (MEW) conducted a fact-finding mission to Egypt in January and February 1992, to investigate arrest and detention practices and allegations of torture of individuals held in the custody of the security forces. Participating in the mission were Virginia N. Sherry, associate director of MEW, and John Valery White, an attorney and Orville Schell Fellow with Human Rights Watch. On February 5, while the mission was in progress, MEW representatives were informed by the government that they would be able to visit and inspect Egyptian prisons, access MEW has sought since 1990. MEW accepted the invitation and, beginning on February 12, visited six prisons over an eight-day period. These six facilities housed 9,778 inmates, over 27 percent of Egypt's total prison population. Five of the prisons are located just outside the Cairo metropolitan area: in Abu Zabel, northeast of the city; in Tora, southeast of Cairo on the Nile; and in Qanater, northwest of Cairo on the Nile. The sixth prison is in the city of Tanta, about 55 miles northwest of Cairo. MEW chose to visit Abu Zabel and Tora prisons because political prisoners -- some in long-term detention without charge -- are held there, and because each facility contains a high-security prison (Abu Zabel Liman and Tora Liman) for prisoners sentenced to hard labor. Qanater was selected because 1,100 of Egypt's 1,441 women detainees and sentenced prisoners are held there. MEW also sought to visit a general prison, and Tanta was selected for this reason. While the prison visits were underway, Egyptian daily newspapers began to characterize MEW's observations and findings, often quoting Interior Minister Muhammed Abdel Halim Moussa, without contacting MEW representatives for comment. In order to publicly respond to misrepresentations that appeared in the Egyptian press, MEW held a press conference in Cairo on February 22, at the conclusion of the mission, to clarify the facts and release preliminary findings. The statement distributed by MEW at the press conference follows.

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