CAIRO - Egyptian lawmakers said Monday that the late President Mohammed Morsi was treated well in prison, just days after a U.N. report attributed Morsi's death to “brutal” conditions inside the country's jails.
Alaa Abed, head of the Parliament's human rights committee, told The Associated Press that allegations of Morsi's mistreatment were an attempt to slander the government.
As defense minister, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi led the 2013 military overthrow of Morsi in 2013. Morsi collapsed and died in a courtroom in June.
“They are talking about Morsi, and they are trying to tell the world in a way or another that Morsi died due to prison conditions,” he said. “But I had visited Morsi several times ... and he was staying in a big room, he had all his medications, food, drinks and everything he needed.”
Morsi, who hailed from the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, became Egypt's first democratically elected president in 2012, a year after the Arab Spring uprisings. But his one-year rule proved divisive, sparking massive nationwide protests in 2013.
U.N. rights experts said Friday that while in jail he was denied medical care, lost vision in one eye and suffered recurrent diabetic comas. The experts concluded that the conditions he endured “could amount to a state-sanctioned arbitrary killing,” according to the statement by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The U.N. report warned that thousands more prisoners in Egypt are at risk from “gross violations.”
In response, Egyptian authorities organized a carefully scripted trip for journalists to Cairo's Tora prisons complex on Monday, along with dozens of celebrities and pro-government TV hosts.
Speaking during the prison visit, another lawmaker, Mostafa Bakry, decried the U.N. report's findings. He said Morsi received “very good treatment, and everything that's being said is just allegations and lies, the aim of which is mainly political.”
El-Sissi's government is scheduled to undergo its Universal Periodic Review at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday.
Gen. Ashraf Ezz el-Arab, head of prisons department at the interior ministry, said the trip came “in response to critics and rumors designed to portray a fabricated, untrue mental image.”
Prison authorities presented reporters with scenes of prisoners playing sports on a green lawn, as well as meals of meat and rice being prepared in the canteen. The trip also included a visit to an animal farm inside the complex that houses cows and ostriches.
Reporters however were not allowed to visit the overcrowded cells described by former detainees, in which their feet are crammed into each other's faces and where their few belongings must be hung from the walls.
Rights activists say conditions in Egypt's prisons are catastrophic, with allegations of torture and beatings. These groups say tens of thousands are currently locked away, often for months or years without charge.
A former prisoner told AP in October last year about the feeling of claustrophobia he experienced while sharing a 6- by 15-meter (yard) cell with nearly 30 other inmates — Islamists, jihadis, liberal leftists and, he said, people who were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Prominent rights lawyer Gamal Eid said the trip was “an attempt to glitz up the deteriorating conditions of the prisons.”