Paying more than your debt in Egypt's prisons

Paying more than your debt in Egypt's prisons
3 min read
10 April, 2015
Feature: Prison guards and police accused of capitalising on poor conditions and corruption to extort money from inmates' families in return for visits and food deliveries.
Alexandria's prisons are overcrowded [AFP]

Prison guards and police officers in Egypt's Alexandria are capitalising on poor jail conditions and a high tolerance for corruption to extort money from inmates' families, according to a lawyer and human rights activists.

Fekri Abdel Rahim, a lawyer in Alexandria, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that officers would often ban visitors unless they paid first.

"Despite meeting all the requirements, families may still be unable to see their relatives because the guards might refuse. So now payments are part of prisoners' basic needs, along with food and drink," said Abdel Rahim.

The guards humiliate the prisoners and their families who cannot or do not pay.

"This is not limited to adult prisoners. Even children detained in correctional facilities face the same problem," he said.

"Families of children arrested during anti-military protests say that only money solves problems."

Exploiting the vulnerable

Haitham Abu Khalil, the director of the Dahaya Human Rights Centre, said: "Those who work at police stations take advantage of the crowded cells to make a profit by extorting the families in return for delivering the prisoners' basic needs."

He added that that the most severe violations the prisoners were subjected to were the lack of sleep, food and clothes, and the fact that they might be prevented from talking or urinating if their families did not pay the guards.

He said the extortion and threats were part of a wider deterioration in prison conditions since the overthrew of Mohammed Morsi from the presidency.

Sources from the Borg el-Arab prison near Alexandria said some police officers and guards humiliate the prisoners and conceal their locations to force their families into paying.

Ignoring the law

Egypt's prison laws stipulate that prisoners have the right to one visit a week, which last up to 30 minutes. The prison director or warden can increase the length of the visit if required. There are no limitations on the number of visitors.

One former prisoner, speaking to al-Araby on condition of anonymity, said those rights were ignored. Prison guards prevent families from visiting or delivering food and medicine unless they pay what the official deems an appropriate fee, the former prisoner said.

"My family had to pay a lot of money to a security officer to find out where I was... officials refused to tell them for more than 10 days," he said. "The cells were so crowded that some prisoners had to sleep in the bathroom, without blankets."

According to Ibrahim Abdul Al, the relative of a man detained in Karmouz police station in Alexandria, prisoners sleep in the hallways at night. Those who paid a fee were allowed to lie on the floor of a cell.

Prisoners' families made to suffer

Prison guards prevent families from visiting or delivering basic needs like food or medicines unless they pay what the official deems an appropriate fee.

Afaf', the mother of a Borg el-Arab prisoner said that meals she brings ito the prison are often confistcated.

She would pay $14 to guards while he was being held at Alexandria's Security Directorate. Now she can't find anyone at Borg to even take the money.

"My son was held for more than two weeks at the Security Directorate in Smouha, they banned visits," she said.

"Most of the time the guard would take the money and still not deliver the food to my son."

She said she was subjedcted to cruel treatment every time she visited Borg and that, according to her son and the other prisoners, the guards would strip them and confiscate their clothes and beat them.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.