Mursi's death in Cairo prison raises fears for other inmates

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By Amina Ismail and Aidan Lewis

CAIRO (Reuters) – The children of high-profile Egyptian Islamists detained in the same prison as former President Mohamed Mursi before his sudden death last week say they 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 being held under extremely poor conditions, deprived of adequate healthcare.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm the families’ 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 the foreign media, did not respond to several calls and messages seeking comment about the families’ accounts, including accusations that some of their relatives needed surgery for abuse suffered in detention.

Egyptian officials have previously denied mistreating prisoners or neglecting their health. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-egypt-brotherhood-prisons-specialrepo/special-report-in-egypt-jailed-islamists-dying-of-neglect-idUSKCN0R30Y420150903

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a 68-year-old Islamist former presidential candidate who ran for election against Mursi in 2012, is held at Tora’s Al Mazra wing. Arrested in February 2018, he is held 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 that he brought with him but does not work properly in the high temperatures of the prison cell, Ahmed told Reuters.

“The doctor said that 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.”

SOLITARYCONFINEMENT

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

“His health has deteriorated significantly,” Abdullah said.

Another of Haddad’s sons, Gihad, a Brotherhood spokesman, is held 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 that his knee feels numb and he isn’t getting any 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 men are being retried.

According to one 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 held at the Tora prisons.

Sisi says there are no political prisoners in Egypt. His backers say the crackdown was necessary to stabilise Egypt after its 2011 uprising.

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

He had previously fainted during hearings, suffered diabetic comas, developed a condition in his left eye, and had back and neck pains from sleeping on the bare 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 those specific ailments.

His family visited just 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 has been handed several life terms and death sentences, is another of those held at Scorpion. His family also says his health is deteriorating.

INADEQUATEMEDICALCARE

“He used to suffer from kidney, immune system, thyroid and joints 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 that the authorities aren’t allowing him to do.”

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

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

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 someone present at the hearing.

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

The prison conditions of Mursi and other Brotherhood inmates described by their 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 a hospital where he was free to walk in a garden, see relatives and swim. Now 91, he was freed after a retrial in 2017.

(Editing by William Maclean)

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