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
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

Video Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs