In the catastrophic Coronavirus crisis through which the world is getting, political and judicial authorities in numerous countries are attempting to limit prisons inmates by conditional releases in the criminal cases where applicable in addition to Conscience Cases and less important ones. Some countries have taken wide steps in slowing down imprisonment operations by the immediate release of the recently arrested inmates in addition to restricting arrests to cases of extreme necessity. For instance, in the USA, 38 persons have been released from the Cuyahoga County jail in Ohio and some of them have been put on probation. This was one of the expanded procedures to face Coronavirus and save people’s lives. This is what exactly Cleveland County in the same state made with some of the recently arrested inmates.
Moreover, Iran has released more than 60.000 prisoners of those sentenced to less than 5 years not to mention elderly prisoners sentenced to longer periods, amid deep fears of the rapid spread of Coronavirus inside prisons. Meanwhile the Italian authorities did not take such steps, which led to absolute chaos in prisons resulting in the murder of 6 people, burning fire and the escape of many prisoners. That was a result of a halt on visits with the disease spread in the country. This is the fate that some have expected for Spain, France, Syria, Egypt and the countries with escalating numbers of those infected with Coronavirus. In addition to insisting on not taking any steps towards the immediate release of inmates and halting visits.
On the Other hand, numerous human rights organizations and a number of international advocates and public health experts have demanded various governments to pardon patient and elderly inmates in cases of emergency, and to release immediately all those arrested pending investigations. This is meant to protect the community and secure prisoners because – as their expression goes – “Imprisonment will create a fertile environment for spreading infection”. That said, public health experts believe that it is only a matter of time before prisons explode with infections, which occurred in Chinese prisons that witnessed an escalation of infected cases throughout all prisons in February.
Further, in Arab countries, none of them has taken such procedures except for Bahrain that pardoned 901 prisoners and further 585 inmates will serve out the rest of their sentences in rehabilitation and training programs instead of prisons. Yet, no other Arab country followed its steps despite of the escalation of infection number one day after the other, especially in the countries with numerous political and conscience prisoners, most importantly Egypt, Syria, UAE and KSA amid total absence of transparency when declaring the number of infections in the mentioned countries. Hence, it is expected to encounter a sudden explosion of Coronavirus infections and perhaps deaths, which necessitates for a number of countries to take precautionary measures against arrivals from Egypt and Syria and those intending to depart to them in addition to banning air flights with them.
Strangely enough, Egyptian authorities have recently arrested Dr. Layla Souaif, Mona Souaif, Dr. Ahdaf Souaif, Dr. Rabab al-Mahdy pending investigation in the case no. 1909 of the year 2020, Qasr al-Nil misdemeanors, on grounds of their requesting the immediate release of the prisoners and inmates pending further investigations for fears of their infection by Coronavirus and the spread of the virus in prisons specially in such bad conditions. They have been accused of protesting with intentions of disrupting the interests of citizens, affecting the efficient functioning of public utility, spreading false news and rumors in bad faith, and possessing documents that include false news. It is noteworthy that a few hours after their arrest, the public prosecution released them on bail of 5.000 LE for each of them.
We Record knew from its trusted sources that a countless number of soldiers and officers of the Egyptian Armed Forces have been infected by Coronavirus amid an official blackout and full absence of transparency. That occurred after the Major General Shafea‘Abdel Halim Dawoud has been infected from his secretary who returned from a visit to Italy before declaring the spread of the disease there. It is noteworthy that the Major General Shafea‘Abdel Halim died of Coronavirus in the morning of Monday March 23, 2020.
It is believed that the infection occurred during the incubation period of the virus then it was transmitted to the Major General Khaled Shaltout who was moved to the ICU in a critical condition and died of Coronavirus last Sunday March 22, 2020. Then the Brigadier Osama al-Zayyat of the Engineering Authority has been likely to be infected during a visit to Sharm al-Sheikh and has been put and all his family under quarantine. On the other hand, the Major General Mahmoud Shahin, the Chief of Staff of the Military Engineers Administration, is still put in the ICU to be cured from Coronavirus.
Further, it is suspected that a countless number of the Armed Forces personnel has been infected, especially those of the Engineering Authority having direct contact with civilians, which necessitated issuing a decision to evacuate the Military Entity Project in the New Administrative Capital for fifteen days.
As for Egyptian prisons and Police Stations, according to We Record estimates, prisons contain around 20.000 conscience and political prisoner detained between June 2013 until now including a big number of prisoners pending further investigations for various period, some of which exceeded two years. Those prisoners are distributed between some Egyptian Police Stations and 122 central prisons not to mention jails, most importantly Wadi al-Natroun, Tora and Scorpion Prison. Let alone military prisons, most importantly al-Azouly Prison, which all witness chaos, deprivation of medical care, poorness of sanitation facilities – and perhaps absence in some places – poorness of ventilation and cleanliness, narrowness of areas which are crowded with prisoners reaching 160% of prisons’ capacity and 300% of detention rooms of police stations, not to mention deprivation of sufficient food specially with banning visits since March 10.
Hence, it is feared that Coronavirus could spread in prisons, which would definitely affect the community as a whole. It could, moreover, impose a disastrous danger because of the ease of virus transmission among prisoners and Police and Armed Forces officers and personnel.
With the prisons overcrowded with prisoners and news coming in to We Record of the presence of suspected cases of infection in Tora and Wadi al-Natroun Prisons – which have later been proven negative – dozens of political prisoners’ families have appealed to a full or temporary release for their relatives showing full readiness for making the appropriate measures for their release.
It is worth mentioning that Egyptian laws give the right to the president of the state to offer unlimited and conditional pardon to prisoners. In February 2020, the Egyptian authorities have offered pardon to 135 prisoners, which was preceded by other decisions in many occasions between 2014 and 2019. This makes We Record wonder about the advantage of the previously used “Pardon Power” if it was not used in the meantime! We also wonder about the advantage of the measures that the law gives judges the power to impose as an alternative to the confinement pending further investigations!
In such critical condition, we denounce the despotism of the Egyptian, Syrian, Emirati and Saudi authorities by not releasing political and conscience prisoners in such global hardships especially regarding elderly, patient and female prisoners who face a grave danger of infection by Coronavirus and compose about 30% of the prisoners.
We further urge humanitarian organizations and the international community to take the procedures necessary to impose pressure on the abovementioned governments to release prisoners. We emphasize that insisting on their imprisonment would be considered death penalty for them.
Furthermore, we urge the Egyptian, Syrian, Emirati and Saudi authorities to follow the steps of the world countries that have already released prisoners and the inmates pending further investigations for saving their lives and securing the community. We also urge them to release immediately all political and conscience prisoners using conditional release procedures granted by law to the judicial authority, and Pardon Power granted by law to the political authority. We urge them to release immediately all of the inmates pending further investigations and use temporary procedures as an alternative to confinement pending further investigations; otherwise, it would turn into a harsh punishment. That said, we hold those governments accountable for all catastrophic results of the delay in taking such procedures and the spread of Coronavirus infection.
WE RECORD Team
Tuesday, 24 March 2020