URGENT : Temporary release of Egyptian prisoners during Covid-19 outbreak

March 18, 2020

To Mr. Antonio Guterres

Secretary General of the United Nations

To Ms. Amina J Mohammed

Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations

To Ms. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger

President of the Human Rights Council

To Ms. Michelle Bachelet

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


Re : URGENT : Temporary release of Egyptian prisoners during Covid-19 outbreak

We are writing to you to draw your attention to the dramatic situation of the prisoners detained in Egypt as the Covid-19 outbreak has severely hit the country. We ask for your urgent intervention so that Egyptian prisoners are temporarily released during the outbreak to avoid a fast spread of the virus in jails which would cause dozens of thousands of deaths.

Egypt has officially announced today the first case among the prisoners but a letter leaked from al-Aqrab prison reveals there are many more cases. The letter describes how the prisoners have received no assistance at all so far. Also, it is important to note that the courts have been suspended because of the epidemic which means prisoners will stay locked without even receiving a trial.

Egyptian prisons are sadly known for their squalid conditions. Even more worrying in this time of pandemic, prisoners are crammed in cells that are so small that they have to wait for their turns to lay down and sleep. Human Rights Watch has reported that “Egyptian prisoners complain about inhumane and degraded conditions. Prisoners have said that guards punish them by confiscating personal hygiene tools, such as soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and toilet paper. Toilets are filthy, and prisoners sometimes have to use water in buckets for lack of running water. Proper ventilation and sunshine are scarce. 

“If there is one piece of advice a prisoner in Egypt would give a new prisoner, it would probably be: Don’t get sick.”

In this context, the prisoners are unable to respect the social distancing and hygiene rules that are requested by the World Health Organisation to prevent the virus from spreading. This represents a major risk of mass contamination among the prisoners as well as the prisons’ wardens and guards as well as the families of the prison’s staff.

Furthermore, since 2013, over 600 people have died in Egyptian prisons out of the inhumane conditions they were held and out of gross medical negligence. The lack of basic health care seems to be common practice as reported by the Committee for Justice. Also, the food prisoners receive is not varied enough. In this context, we fear that most prisoners already suffer from a poor immune system and will not be supplied with the necessary health care in case they fall ill to the Covid-19.

Iran just temporarily released 85,000 prisoners, including political and security-related prisoners, following the call of the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Mr. Javaid Rehman.

Egyptian prisoners are detained in similar conditions and should receive the same attention from the United Nations.

We are at your disposal for further information.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Moncef Marzuki Former President of Tunisia   Dr. Ayman Nour Spokesperson, Egyptian National Action Group   Mr. Khaled Abu El Naga Actor   Dr. Magda Refaa Researcher in political philosophy   Dr. Mona Omran Center for Egyptian American Relations (CEAR)   Mr. Ahmed Alpannann President, Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy   Mr. Farid Al Zayat Egyptian Union in Bosnia   Mr. Hatem Azzam Former MP and Secretary General of the Energy and Industry Committee at the Egyptian Parliament   Dr. Amr Darrag Former Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, Egypt   Mr. Sherif Diab Human rights activist   Mr. Kotb Elaraby Chairman, Arab Media Monitor   Mr. Mostafa Eldesoky Center for Egyptian American Relations (CEAR)   Mr. Ahmed Sami Farag Human rights activist   Ms. Sawsan Gharib Political activist   Mr. Safei-Eldin Hamed Center for Egyptian American Relations (CEAR)Ms. Tawakkol Karman Peace Nobel Prize laureate 2011, Yemen   Ms. Aya Hijazi Director, Belady Foundation   Mr. Emad El Daimi MP, Tunisia   Mr. Mohamed Sherif Kamel Political and human rights activist   Mr. Ehab Lotayef Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy   Mr. Amin Mahmoud Center for Egyptian American Relations (CEAR)   Mr. Walid Moustafa Political activist   Mr. Mohamed Okda Director, Insight Into Crisis   Dr. Ali Alawady German Egyptian Union for Democracy   Mr. Adel Rashed Former MP, Egypt   Dr. Osama Rushdi Former member of the Egyptian National Council of Human Rights   Mr. Muhammad Shoubir Center for Egyptian American Relations (CEAR)   Dr. Fatma Taha Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy   Dr. Mohamed Taher Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy   Mr. Yehia Hamed Former Minister of Investment, Egypt   Dr. Samia Harris Human rights activist

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