Pompeo calls on Egypt to protect US prisoners from coronavirus

Pompeo calls on Egypt to protect US prisoners from coronavirus
The US secretary of state told Egypt to look after its American prisoners in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
3 min read
24 April, 2020
There are three US prisoners in Egypt that were mentioned in letter to Pompeo [Getty]
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned Egypt that it needs to protect American prisoners against the spread of coronavirus, as abysmal jail conditions in the country could accelerate the spread of the virus.

The State Department did not provide any details about the prisoners, however three Americans currently detained in Egypt were mentioned in a letter by a bipartisan group of US senators sent to Pompeo earlier this month, calling for the release of Americans detained in several countries over Covid-19 fears.

Pompeo, in his call with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, "emphasised that detained US citizens be kept safe and provided consular access during the Covid-19 pandemic", the State Department said in a statement to Reuters.

Egyptian-American medical student Mohamed Amashah, one of the prisoners mentioned in the US lawmakers' letter, has been awaiting trial for more than a year on charges of misusing social media and helping a terrorist group.

Last month Amashah, who suffers from an autoimmune disease and asthma, started a hunger strike to draw attention to the injustice of his arrest, his parents said.

The novel coronavirus has spread to most parts of the world and killed more than 175,000 globally; in Egypt, the virus has killed 276 people and infected more than 3,600, the World Health Organisation revealed.

Egypt urged to release prisoners

Human rights groups have urged Egyptian authorities to release prisoners as the country has yet to reach its coronavirus peak.

"Egyptian prisons are notorious for being overcrowded, dirty and unhygienic," Human Rights Watch said.

Last November, UN experts said that Egypt's abusive detention conditions "may be placing the health and lives of thousands [of] prisoners at severe risk".

"Families with 'unofficial' ways to communicate with jailed relatives reported that some prisons in Cairo witnessed water leaks and electricity cuts." HRW said.

"Those families live in agony, and they are right to be concerned. When families tried to send soap and disinfectants to their jailed relatives, the prison administration refused."

Egypt has also been pushed to release detained medical staff to assist the country's healthcare workers who are struggling to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Nurses and doctors are among at least 438 prisoners whose detention have been documented on an interactive map by human rights monitoring group We Record.

Egypt lacks the adequate staff numbers and equipment levels needed to deal with the coronavirus crisis effectively, healthcare workers have said. Despite this, hundreds of medical practitioners are languishing in the country's notorious jails.

"Despite an acute shortage of medical teams and the ministry of health requesting volunteers to confront the novel coronavirus, the Egyptian authorities are holding 438 people, including doctors, nurses and others, according to our preliminary figures," We Record said in a statement.

Egypt won't reach virus peak until end of Ramadan

Egypt will reach its peak number of coronavirus deaths at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, according to an internal government report.

The report prepared by the security and health services examines the existing number of Covid-19 cases and deaths and assesses the impact of restrictions placed on movement.

The document, seen by The New Arab's Arabic-language service, was prepared for the government's Coronavirus Epidemic Crisis Management Committee.

It states Egypt is not expected to hit its coronavirus peak until the third week of May, which will coincide with the end of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr festival.

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