Egypt: Former MP dies in Scorpion prison after five years of ban on family visits

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Hamdi Hassan, elected as an MP three times between 2000 and 2012, died in his cell on Thursday, his son announced
 
Hamdi Hassan was arrested in Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s crackdown on Morsi supporters (Facebook)

Former Egyptian member of parliament Hamdi Hassan died on Thursday at the age of 65 in the notorious Al-Aqrab (Scorpion) Prison, after eight years in detention, his son announced on Friday.

Hassan was among tens of thousands of political prisoners held in Egypt’s jails since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ousted his democratically elected predecessor Mohamed Morsi in a military coup in 2013. 

A former MP, elected three times between 2000 and 2012, Hassan was detained in August 2013 during a crackdown on Morsi supporters who had rallied to reject the coup and call for his reinstatement as president. 

‘They banned a funeral service for him, and only allowed six people to attend his burial’

– Hamdi Hassan’s son

Hassan’s son, Baraa, said the family had been barred from visiting him for the past five years. 

“They informed us yesterday about his death inside his cell in Scorpion prison,” Baraa said. “They banned a funeral service for him, and only allowed six people to attend his burial.”

Hassan’s family did not announce the cause of his death, but Scorpion prison is notorious for causing “slow deaths” among its inmates, most of whom are classified as political prisoners, according to local and international rights groups.

The maximum security Scorpion prison is part of the Tora Prison complex, south of Cairo. A senior Egyptian police general and former Scorpion warden said the prison “was designed so that those who go in don’t come out again unless dead… It was designed for political prisoners.”

In a report last year, Human Rights Watch said: “Because of the absence of sufficient natural light to work or read, the lack of humane sleeping and sanitation arrangements, and climate consideration, as well as inadequate floor space, artificial lighting and proper ventilation, the Scorpion Prison inherently violates the basic rights of prisoners as codified in the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules). 

“Additionally, prison authorities routinely deprive inmates of access to education, adequate healthcare, and visits by families and lawyers.”

Many activists mourned Hassan on social media, condemning his detention as unjust. Khalil Anani, a political science professor, described Hassan as “a new victim of the military junta’s prisons.

“Hassan was one of the most respectable public figures in the country,” said Anani. “He was arrested on 19 August 2013, and was kept in solitary confinement for eight years in Scorpion prison until his death.” 

Haitham Abu Khalil, a human rights advocate whose brother died in the same prison last year due to medical negligence, said Hassan’s death was part of “an evil policy of getting rid of political opponents. 

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“In the Scorpion prison and other cemeteries falsely called detention centres, the military has killed 119 political prisoners slowly since January 2020 until today.”

Deaths in custody

Since becoming president in 2014, Sisi has fiercely suppressed dissent.

An estimated 60,000 people have been arrested under his rule, many of them critics, writers, journalists, human rights defenders and peaceful protesters. Thousands have been jailed without trial under Egypt’s abusive pre-trial detention system. 

According to the Geneva-based Committee for Justice (CFJ), which tracks deaths in Egyptian prisons, including those as a result of Covid-19, at least 1,000 prisoners died in custody between July 2013 and October 2020. Causes of deaths included torture, suicide and poor detention conditions. The majority of those deaths were due to medical negligence, the CFJ’s director, Ahmed Mefreh, told Middle East Eye. 

Those who died in custody as a result of medical negligence in recent years include former President Morsi, Egyptian-American prisoner Moustafa Kassem, film director Shady Habash, and former MP Essam El-Erian

Sisi has repeatedly justified the crackdown on his critics as part of the fight against terrorism, and has denied the country has any political prisoners

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