Sisi could 'pardon' British woman jailed in squalid conditions familiar to thousands of political prisoners

Sisi could 'pardon' British woman jailed in squalid conditions familiar to thousands of political prisoners
President Sisi's pardon for jailed Brit Laura Plummer will save her from her three-year drug smuggling sentence, but also aims to mask rampant human rights abuses from western eyes.
3 min read
26 January, 2018
Plummer had just begun her three-year sentence in a notorious Cairo jail [Plummer family handout]
Laura Plummer, the British woman held on drug smuggling charges in a notorious Egyptian prison could be released 'within two days', due to a presidential pardon.

The 33-year-old from Hull was sentenced to three years in prison after she was found with 290 tablets of the opioid painkiller Tramadol in her suitcase at Hurghada airport, a Red Sea destination popular with foreign tourists.

Plummer, a shop assistant, claimed the painkillers, which are legal in the UK, were for her Egyptian husband's back pain.

The opioid is banned in Egypt due to its widespread use as a heroin substitute. The north African country has a growing rate of opioid and heroin use, as well as a spiralling HIV epidemic.

According to reports in The Sun, Plummer's family are expecting her release on Sunday after being told that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi may grant her a presidential pardon, which he customarily issues on a "day of mercy" marking the anniversary of Egypt's revolution on 25th January.

"We can't believe it's over. We've prayed for this day since she was arrested," her sister Jayne Sinclair told The Sun. "We just want to get her home."

Plummer was reportedly suicidal due to the cramped and squalid conditions at the notorious al-Qanater prison in Cairo, where she was being held.

Thousands of political prisoners

The tentative pardon by Sisi, a general turned president after a military coup in 2013, is likely meant to appease Western governments ahead of presidential elections in which Sisi is the only real contender.

The clemency for the British citizen will not be extended to thousands of Egyptian prisoners of conscience thought to be held and routinely tortured by his security services.

President Sisi previously said that there were no political prisoners in Egypt. Human right groups estimate there are nearly 60,000 political prisoners currently held.

In the prisons, the torture epidemic is nothing short of 'crime against humanity'. Human Rights Watch found that Egypt's regular police and national security officers routinely torture political detainees with techniques that include beatings, electric shocks, stress positions, and sometimes rape.

Security forces in Egypt enjoy a culture of near total impunity, allowing for the widespread and systematic torture present in Sisi's cells.

Ibrahim Halawa, an Irish teenager recently released after being imprisoned for four years in Egypt described the unbearable conditions during his time in prison.

Human Rights Watch have expressed severe concerns over how the judicial system and the security forces operate in Egypt, citing rampant use of torture and invocation of the death penalty.

"Egyptian police and National Security agents have routinely used torture and enforced disappearances against both criminal suspects and perceived political opponents with near impunity," the organisation said of the human rights situation in Egypt.

The pardon comes as frustration mounts over the unsolved killing of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni in Cairo in 2016.

On Thursday, an Italian prosecutor claimed Regeni was killed by Egyptian security over his research on the politically-sensitive labour unions in the country. 

Egyptian security forces are widely suspected of Regeni's torture and murder, however the Egyptian authorities continually deny any involvement in the case.