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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs