Morsi: years of slow murder in Egyptian prisons

Morsi: years of slow murder in Egyptian prisons
5 min read
17 June, 2019
Unable to see his family or access medical care, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's death was preceded by years of mistreatment in Egyptian prisons.
Human Rights Watch has also condemned Egyptian authorities (AFP)
Following the military coup lead by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi was arrested by Egyptian security forces in July 2013. After months of enforced disappearance, his first court appearance was in November the same year.

"I am Dr Mohammed Morsi, the president of the republic... This was a military coup. The leaders of the coup should be tried," Morsi said on the opening day of his first trial.

He was the most prominent prisoner out of tens of thousands of Egyptians imprisoned for their political activism since in the military coup, many of whom have faced severe violations of their human rights behind bars, including lack of access to medical care.  In Morsi's case, this may have lead to his sudden death in court on Monday.  

"We feared that if Dr Morsi was not provided with urgent medical assistance, the damage to his health may be permanent and possibly terminal" said Crispin Blunt, who had led a panel of British parliamentarians who had reviewed the conditions of Morsi's imprisonment.  "Sadly, we have been proved right."

The prison conditions that Morsi was kept in has attracted strong condemnations in the wake of his death. 

"The Egyptian authorities must immediately order an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his death, as well as his detention conditions and his ability to access medical care," said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"Egyptian authorities had the responsibility to ensure that, as a detainee,he had access to proper medical care."

Morsi has been unable to communicate with his lawyers or the judge, as he has faced trial in a glass case in the court room, limiting his access to a fair trial. He has faced solitary confinement in for six years, with his family being able to only visit him twice - once in November 6 2013, and the second time on June 4 2017.

The family has filed numerous complaints to the Egyptian authorities about his lack of access to health care, as well as access to writing materials and newspapers.  They argue that his treatment violated conventions of human rights, as well as Egypt’s prison regulations which allow for monthly family visitations.

A report by an independent human rights committee composed of British MPs and lawyers warned in March 2018 that the Egyptian president who was kept in solidarity confinement faced the risk of death in prison if he did not receive urgent medical attention immediately.

He suffered from chronic diabetes and reports suggest that the prison administration with held basic medical treatment. Among the health problems he reportedly experienced was deterioration of vision in his left eye and abscesses in his mouth from sleeping on the ground as well as hypoglycaemia.

The report called on the international community to denounce the conditions of Morsi’s imprisonment and called on the Egyptian government to allow his family to visit him and receive medical treatment. They noted that the circumstances of the former Egyptian president's detention may amount to torture, inhumane or degrading treatment.

Human Rights Watch also condemned Egyptian authorities for their mistreatment of Morsi following his last court appearance in 2017. 

"Egyptian authorities appear to have seriously violated former President Morsi’s due process rights and may be interfering in his proper medical treatment," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.

"Morsi's treatment is a window into the appalling conditions suffered by thousands of political detainees in Egypt."

Egyptian political and human rights sources have told The New Arab that the Egyptian Prison administration is pursuing a clear policy of deliberate "medical negligence" against political prisoners, in particular against the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.

One source said that "the prison sector has instructions from the Minister of the Interior, Major General Mahmoud Tawfiq, not to respond to the demands of any of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who suffer from chronic and serious diseases", which reportedly includes not permitting prisoners to pursue hospital treatment at their own expense, as well as to prevent relatives from giving them medicines.

The sources said that the violations suffered by the leaders of the Brotherhood are frequent and repeated and are ordered by "the presidency", with the goal of causing the deaths of the greatest possible number of these leaders in prison, including the deposed President Mohammed Morsi. In this way the ruling regime avoids external criticism as would be the case if these leaders are executed.

"They couldn't execute him because it might lead to civil unrest, and keeping him alive meant that he would forever be the figurehead of democracy - the antithesis of Sisi," said Sam Hamad, a writer on international politics. 

Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, died on September 22, 2017 at the age of 89 and was buried in silence without mourners. He was suffering from cancer and the court had repeatedly denied him treatment. 

In August 2017, a member of the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau, Abdel-Azim Cherkaoui, died as a result of the deterioration of his health condition in Beni Suef prison.

In May this year Morsi's family condemned the on-going solitary confinement, saying that they knew little about his current health conditions due his isolation.

"What has happened to the imprisoned president is a violation of all the constitutions and laws governing justice in Egypt and the world" the family said, calling on international human rights organisations and the UN to pay attention to the violations of Morsi’s rights.

Al Jazeera published a leaked audio recording of proceedings in a case Morsi is currently fighting for allegedly orchestrating a prison escape during the 2011 uprising that led to the toppling of Hosni Mubarak.

In the audio, Morsi complains that he has been denied access to his defence team for months and cannot properly hear or see court activities because of a glass compartment he must sit in during the trial.

"I am present but absent because of this glass cage," he said, complaining that he could not see or hear the court.

"I don’t know where I’s steel behind steel and glass behind glass. The reflection of my image makes me dizzy."