(Beirut, August 9, 2019) – Egyptian authorities should investigate the conditions of US citizen Khaled Hassan who attempted suicide in July 2019 while in pretrial detention in Tora prison, Human Rights Watch and The Freedom Initiative said today. An independent inquiry is needed into Khaled Hassan’s allegations that he was tortured in detention, as well as other violations of prisoners’ rights in Egyptian prisons.
Hassan, a 42-year-old Egyptian American limousine driver from New York, has been detained in Egypt since January 2018. He previously provided Human Rights Watch detailed allegations of being raped and tortured in custody. On July 29 around noon he attempted suicide by slitting his wrist and taking large amounts of hypertension pills. After other inmates found him unconscious, prison authorities transferred him to Tora Istikbal prison hospital, where his wounds were treated. Hassan’s family said that he saw a psychiatrist that day who provided him with medication, and that he was returned to his cell the same evening. They raised concerns about whether he was receiving appropriate medical care.
“Khaled Hassan’s prison nightmare is shared by many detainees across Egypt, from Cairo to North Sinai,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Egyptian authorities have sadly earned their miserable reputation for mistreating prisoners, including denying them safe and sanitary prison conditions.”
The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) state that the “provision of health care for prisoners is a State responsibility. Prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community.” Furthermore, “[a]ll prisons shall ensure prompt access to medical attention in urgent cases. Prisoners who require specialized treatment or surgery shall be transferred to specialized institutions or to civil hospitals.”
Hassan’s family said that he attempted suicide shortly after prison officials denied him a visit with his brother, who was visiting Egypt from the United States. They said that prison authorities denied the brother’s request for a visit four times.
Authorities accused Hassan of joining Sinai Province, an Islamic State-affiliated group in Egypt. Authorities referred him, together with 554 other defendants, to military trial on several violence related charges. The trial began in February. Both prosecutors and military judges failed to order him examined by forensic doctors.
Nearly 130 detainees at the Scorpion maximum security prison in Tora have gone on a mass hunger strike since mid-June for not being allowed a single visit from their families or lawyers for periods up to 30 months, Amnesty International reported.
Egyptian law grants individuals in pretrial detention the right to weekly visits with no limits on the numbers of visitors. However, Human Rights Watch and local organizations have documented many cases in which the authorities denied detainees and convicted prisoners visits without providing any legal justification.
A family member said that Hassan also was hoping to receive a visit from his 11-year-old son in the coming months. “The denial of visits for Hassan’s brother put him under the impression that he won’t be seeing his son and daughters for a very long time to come,” a family member said.
Mohamed Soltan, a former prisoner in Egypt and the development director at The Freedom Initiative, alerted Human Rights Watch to Hassan’s case in September 2018. In interviews conducted remotely, Hassan reported that in the weeks following his detention on January 8, 2018, security forces severely beat him, gave him electric shocks, including on his genitals, and anally raped him in at least two incidents, once with a wooden stick and once by another man.
In a statement in October 2018, Egyptian authorities denied Hassan’s allegations of torture, rape, and enforced disappearance.
Hassan’s family said that Hassan has been under immense pressure from Egyptian National Security officers, who allegedly told Hassan that he will never be released from prison.
In a previous remote interview, Hassan said that US embassy officials visited him monthly, but he was not able to talk to them without a National Security officer present. He said prison authorities barred US embassy officials from giving him pictures of his children. The Mandela Rules provide that “[p]risoners who are foreign nationals shall be allowed reasonable facilities to communicate with the diplomatic and consular representatives of the State to which they belong.”
El Nadeem Center, a local human rights group, reported that Hassan’s suicide attempt was the fifth attempt among prisoners in Tora prison in recent years, and the second in two months. El Nadeem said that at least 400 prisoners have been denied visits for periods up to two and a half years. Human Rights Watch previously documented Egyptian prison authorities’ systematic mistreatment of prisoners, including lack of food and opportunity for exercise and denying prisoners hygiene products, mattresses, beds, and urgent medical care.
In recent months, Human Rights Watch has documented six cases in which Egyptian authorities arrested Egyptian dual nationals, including a Canadian, an Australian, and two Germans. On July 20, a US news outlet reported that Egyptian authorities arrested Reem Mohammed El-Desouky, a US citizen, and her 12-year-old son when they arrived at the airport in Cairo. According to the news report, El-Desouky’s son was released shortly after, and El-Desouky was sent to Al-Qanater women’s prison on charges of joining the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has designated as a terrorist organization. A family member told The Freedom Initiative that authorities also arrested El-Desouky’s brother, Nour, when he tried to visit his sister in detention.
“The Trump administration and the US Congress should press President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to ensure humane treatment for Khaled Hassan and fellow detainees,” Soltan said. “The ever-expanding list of serious abuses in Egypt’s ghastly prison system should be investigated immediately.”