(Beirut) – A 64-year-old Egyptian man whose United States-based family pleaded several times for his release because of his medical condition died in Tora Maximum-Security Prison II in Cairo on September 2, 2020, after nearly two years in detention without trial, Human Rights Watch said today.
Ahmed Abdelnabi Mahmoud was arrested on December 23, 2018 along with his wife, Raia Abdallah, 62, and their daughter, Yosr Abdelnabi, 24. Mahmoud and Abdallah were forcibly disappeared for almost three weeks before the authorities took them before a Supreme State Security prosecutor on January 10, 2019. Their daughter was detained at Cairo Airport for 22 days, then released without charge. Abdallah was conditionally released on May 23, 2019 pending trial.
“When Egyptian authorities take someone into custody, they become responsible for that detainee’s well-being,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to open a full investigation into the causes of Ahmed Mahmoud’s death to determine if medical negligence played a role.”
The Egyptian authorities charged Mahmoud and Abdallah with belonging to an unspecified “illegal group.” Mahmoud’s two American-Egyptian daughters who live in the US told Human Rights Watch that he had several chronic illnesses, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and asthma. He also developed kidney stones in prison but was unable to get adequate medical care or be examined by independent doctors.
They said he told them he was beaten during his initial secret detention, causing symptoms resembling post-traumatic stress disorder, for which he received no treatment. The family was not immediately informed of the cause and circumstances of Mahmoud’s death.
“For months he stayed in a dark, filthy, narrow cell with no access to clean water, food, medication, or medical treatment,” one family member said. “Prison doctors would tell him he was faking his illness every time he complained,” the relative said.
His daughters said that the authorities had never provided Mahmoud’s lawyers with a copy of the official charges against him and Abdallah and did not allow them to review or challenge any evidence of wrongdoing.
Mahmoud’s daughters announced his death on their Facebook page. The Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, a local rights group, reported the deaths of three additional Egyptians held in different prisons over the course of just two days, August 31 and September 1. The others who died are Sobhy al-Saqqa, in Borg al-Arab Alexandria Prison; Sha’ban Hussein Khaled, in al-Fayoum General Prison; and Abdelrahman Youssef Zawal, in Tora Tahqiq Prison. Tora Tahqiq and Tora Maximum-Security Prison II are both parts of Cairo’s Tora Prison Complex.
Since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi effectively took power in 2013, hundreds of prisoners have died in detention by some estimates, many likely as a result of inadequate medical care or torture. According to the Committee for Justice, a Geneva-based independent human rights group, the number of detainees who died in Egyptian custody between June 2013 and December 2019 could be as high as 958. Almost none of these deaths has been meaningfully investigated.
Two United Nations experts wrote in November 2019 that Egypt’s abusive detention conditions “may be placing the health and lives of thousands more prisoners at severe risk.” During the Covid-19 outbreak, Human Rights Watch with the Committee for Justice documented the deaths of at least 15 prisoners, most likely because of Covid-19 complications.
“Detainees and prisoners keep dying in Egyptian custody despite frequent pleas for adequate health care,” Stork said. “This reflects unacceptable negligence on the part of Egyptian prison authorities.”