News / Middle East

Brotherhood Leaders Compare Egypt Jail Cells to Graves

Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi rally against the military and interior ministry, as they show the "Rabaa" gesture, a sign to condemn police killing of hundreds of protesters.
Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi rally against the military and interior ministry, as they show the "Rabaa" gesture, a sign to condemn police killing of hundreds of protesters.
Reuters
Murad Ali said he was put in a foul-smelling cell on death row, sleeping on a concrete floor, and denied light and human contact after his arrest in Egypt's crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. “It was as dark as a grave,” he wrote in a letter addressed to friends and family, and seen by Reuters.

The army-backed authorities deny claims that Brotherhood leaders have been mistreated, and there is no way to independently verify such accounts; but people who have spoken to them in jail say some have been kept in similar conditions for days on end.

Their relatives describe it as a bid to break their spirit - a measure of the severity of the campaign against the group that was swept from power by the military on July 3, when Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood member, was deposed.

Analysts say it points to a state effort to weaken the Brotherhood by decapitating it. The movement says it has up to one million members and it is one of the most influential Islamist groups in the Middle East.

“They are putting them under psychological pressure to break them,” said a relative of another inmate, adding that in the first 13 days of his incarceration he had been let out of his cell only for questioning. “He said: 'It is a grave. We are in graves',” she said. “It was as if he hadn't seen us for years.”

The woman, like others interviewed, declined to be named for fear it would lead to tougher treatment for those in prison or retribution against her family.

The authorities have arrested at least 3,000 people since Morsi was toppled, according to Amnesty International. A state of emergency gives security forces sweeping powers, though Brotherhood leaders have been detained under normal criminal laws. Much of Egypt remains under a nighttime curfew.

Accounts emerging from prisons indicate much tougher jail conditions for the leaders than what the group faced under autocrat Hosni Mubarak, toppled in a 2011 revolt. Brotherhood leaders were generally treated better than most inmates in Mubarak's day, for all the repression across the country at large.

But the group that propelled Morsi to power in Egypt's first freely contested presidential vote faces the toughest clampdown since the death of President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970.

While the Interior Ministry denied the leaders have been put in solitary confinement, it confirmed they had been separated for security reasons. Hany Abdel Latif, spokesman for the ministry, said prison rules allowing for exercise, medical treatment and library access applied to all prisoners.

“The situation is normal,” he said.

Leaders of the Brotherhood, described by local media in terms akin to al-Qaida, have been charged with crimes including inciting violence and murder since the army deposed Morsi after mass protests against his rule.

Some of the leaders now seem to have no idea what is going on outside prison. A relative of one said he had been surprised to hear there were still protests against the army-backed government.

Amnesty International, citing Brotherhood lawyers, said Murad Ali's eyesight had been affected by the lack of light in his solitary cell. “He was also not allowed to take medication for blood pressure for two days,” said its Egypt researcher, Mohamed El Messiry. “Amnesty International is not able to confirm other reported cases,” he added.

'Revenge' allegations

In a hand-written note Ali, arrested at the airport last month as he tried to leave the country, said his cell had no running water for the first two days. Charges against him include forming a “terrorist gang.”

Spokesman for the Brotherhood's political party, he said the shutter in his cell door was kept closed for the first eight days.

Echoing Ali's account, two other senior Brotherhood politicians told state prosecutors they were being held in solitary confinement, official documents published by a local newspaper showed on Saturday.

Mohamed el-Beltagi, one of the two, said he had been held in a cell with no light or ventilation and had only been let out for questioning, according to the document, published on Saturday in Al-Masry Al-Youm, an anti-Brotherhood daily.

“I am not being dealt with as someone in pretrial detention,” Beltagi said. “I have been dealt with in a political way in revenge for my politics.”

Beltagi, charged with inciting killing and torture, also said he had been assaulted upon his arrival at prison, though the prosecutor reported no sign of injury in the document.

He complained that food and medication were not allowed  - echoing complaints of relatives who say they have not been allowed to deliver food.

At least five prominent detainees have been held for days on end in poorly lit and ventilated cells with little or no human contact, according to written accounts attributed to some of them and interviews with relatives who had visited others. One of the relatives said she knew of at least a dozen such cases.

The police continue to arrest Brotherhood activists, a sign of how dim the prospects are of reconciliation with the army-backed government. Morsi is among those charged with inciting killing. His whereabouts remain a secret.

Security forces have killed at least 900 of his supporters in the streets since his downfall, the worst spasm of violence in Egypt's modern history. More than a hundred members of the security forces have also been killed since Aug. 14, when the police moved to break up pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo.

'Carte Blanche'

“We can't compare it to Nasser - they were torturing and killing them (in prison) - but it is definitely worse than Mubarak,” said Khalil al-Anani, an expert on the Brotherhood and a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

“Under Mubarak, they had access to the movement. There were connections between the leaders and organization, and they used to run the organization from prison. Now they want to make sure there is no connection, in order to break the Brotherhood and to push them to accept any deal,” he said.

The leaders are being held at Tora Prison, a high security facility on Cairo's southern outskirts.

One relative noted that the prison authorities appeared to get tougher on the Brotherhood leadership a few weeks ago, when they stopped a group of them from eating together.

They were then confined to cells until medics warned that a lack of exposure to sunlight risked exacerbating skin diseases for which some already were showing signs, said the relative.

Murad Ali's letter says he was put in solitary confinement in a cell with no bed on August 22. The note says the lack of water for the first two days meant he could neither perform ritual ablutions nor clean the excrement he had found inside.

Eight days into his incarceration, the opening of the shutter in the cell door marked a “big step.” It let in more air and light and allowed him to communicate with others, he wrote.

Twelve days into his detention he was let out for half an hour of exercise - something he is still permitted on a daily basis, according to someone who visited him.

Gamal Eid, a human rights activist, said that Brotherhood leaders, suspicious of Egyptian human rights activists they believe supported Morsi's overthrow, had turned down offers from activists who had sought to attend prosecutor questioning.

That questioning is being carried out in the prisons - something Eid described as a breach of human rights, but which other Egyptian rights activists have said is understandable given security concerns.

Anani said many Egyptian human rights organizations had taken political positions against the Brotherhood, giving the authorities “carte blanche” to do as they please.

“They used to receive a middle class treatment, a relatively more privileged treatment,” said Karim Ennarah, of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “But I assume this time it is going to be difficult and more punitive and harsher because the dynamic is different, or because of the perception that they ordered violence against the police or state forces.”

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid