Mursi death raises fears for prison inmates

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The children of high-profile Egyptian Islamists detained in the same prison as former President Mohamed Mursi before his sudden death last week fear for their parents’ health.

Mursi (67) died after collapsing during a court appearance at Cairo’s Tora prison complex, where he was moved after army chief-turned-President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew him in 2013 and cracked down on the Brotherhood and its supporters.

Other senior Brotherhood members are jailed in Tora’s maximum-security “Scorpion” wing, often in solitary confinement. The families of four detainees, all at Tora, said their relatives were held under poor conditions and deprived of adequate healthcare.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm assertions about prison conditions and the state of health of their relatives.

An interior ministry spokesman and Egypt’s State Information Service, which handles relations with foreign media, did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment about the families’ accounts, including accusations that some needed surgery for abuse suffered in detention.

Egyptian officials previously denied mistreating prisoners or neglecting their health.

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a 68-year-old Islamist former presidential candidate who ran for election against Mursi in 2012, is in Tora’s Al Mazra wing. Arrested in February 2018, he is in pre-trial detention over alleged connections with the now-banned Brotherhood. He denies the charges, according to his son Ahmed.

Aboul Fotouh has diabetes, hypertension, heart and respiration problems which require him to sleep with an oxygen machine he brought but does not work in the high temperatures of the prison cell, Ahmed told Reuters.

“The doctor said he has to undergo a prostate operation but they are not allowing it,” he said. “They are deliberately not protecting his health. If they continue treating him like this, it will lead to the same result as Mursi.”

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Former Mursi aide Essam al-Haddad has been in solitary confinement since his arrest six years ago. He was moved to a solitary cell in the Tora hospital complex after several heart attacks, his son Abdullah said.

“His health deteriorated significantly,” Abdullah said.

Another of Haddad’s sons, Gihad, a Brotherhood spokesman, is in Scorpion, where he suffered physical abuse after writing an opinion piece defending the movement for the New York Times in 2017, Abdullah said.

“He was beaten and physically tortured,” he added. “He says his knee feels numb and he isn’t getting therapy. He is on the verge of losing his leg.”

A Cairo court overturned life sentences for espionage against Essam and Gihad in 2016 but both are being retried.

According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimate published in 2017, at least 60,000 people have been detained on political grounds since 2013. Liberal opposition figures swept up in Sisi’s crackdown on dissent are also in the Tora prisons.

Mursi, on trial for espionage and sentenced to more than 40 years on other charges, was held in Tora’s al-Molhaq prison and was in solitary confinement since his arrest in 2013, according to his family.

He previously fainted during hearings, suffered diabetic comas, developed a condition in his left eye and had back and neck pains from sleeping on the floor of his cell, according to statements from HRW citing Mursi’s court testimony and the rights group’s interviews with relatives. Reuters could not independently verify the specific ailments.

His family visited three times in six years, his son Abdullah told Reuters, accusing authorities of “gross medical negligence”.

Mohamed El-Beltagy, the 56-year-old secretary-general of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, who was handed several life terms and death sentences, is another held at Scorpion. His family says his health is deteriorating.

“INADEQUATE MEDICAL CARE”

“He used to suffer from kidney, immune system, thyroid and joint problems, but it was all under control because he was taking his medication regularly,” his son Ammar said.

“We can’t tell why his health is deteriorating because he needs to do tests the authorities aren’t allowing.”

The State Information Service said last week Mursi’s last official health request in November 2017 to be treated at his own expense was approved and an official report from the same year found him suffering from diabetes but otherwise healthy.

A year later, a panel of British members of parliament reviewed evidence about Mursi’s detention conditions in 2018 at the request of Mursi’s family. They found he was receiving “inadequate medical care” including for diabetes and liver disease and  this was ultimately “likely to lead to premature death”.

Mursi collapsed shortly after addressing the court but 20 minutes passed before he was given medical attention, even though other defendants were banging on the glass walls of the sound-proof defendants’ cage to plea for help, according to a person at the hearing.

A statement from the public prosecutor said after falling, Mursi was “immediately” taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The prison conditions of Mursi and other Brotherhood inmates described by the families contrasts with the detention of Hosni Mubarak, who led Egypt for nearly 30 years before he was toppled in 2011.

Arrested for complicity in killing protesters, Mubarak was held in hospital where he was free to walk in a garden, see relatives and swim. Now 91, he was freed after a retrial in 2017.