Egypt's prisons breeding ground for radicalisation says freed prisoner Ibrahim Halawa
An Irish citizen recently released after being imprisoned for four years in Egypt described how dozens of his cellmates became radicalised and sympathetic to the views of the Islamic State during his time in prison.
Ibrahim Halawa was only seventeen years old when he was arrested by Egyptian security forces for protesting against the removal of the democratically elected Islamist-leaning President Mohamed Morsi.
Speaking to AP, Halawa described how regular beatings with bars and metal chains during captivity led him and others to the brink of despair.
"In the beginning, no one had even heard of Daesh, but by the time I left, maybe 20 percent were openly supporting their ideas," he said, using an Arabic name for IS.
"It could have been just talk - many of them were engineers, students and doctors who just wanted to get home to their families - but after all those years of being in jail with no explanation, many wanted revenge.”
Since the army removed Egypt's first democratically-elected president Mohammad Morsi in 2013, extremist groups have stepped up attacks on the military, police positions and Egypt's Coptic Christian minority.
IS boasts a powerful affiliate in Egypt's northern Sinai. Last month, Egypt witnessed its deadliest assault by extremists in its modern history when a devastating militant attack on a mosque killed 305 people.
Following last month's deadly attack, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered Egypt's army to restore security to the restive peninsula within three months, demanding "complete brutal force."
|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.|
Meanwhile, security forces continue to crackdown on dissent using "systematic and widespread" force.
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.
Halawa explained that prison officials repeatedly referred to him and his cellmates as "political prisoners", writing it on over-crowded cells.
"The prisons were packed - originally there were many members of the Muslim Brotherhood and April 6 but new people were always coming in," he said.
"Toward the end, the guards became really rough with us because they saw people who left were returning still politicised, posting their views on Facebook."
Halawa was arrested with his two sisters in the summer of 2013, days after the Egyptian army had cleared out the pro-democracy sit-in at Rabaa Square.
In Egypt's worst massacre in recent history, Human Rights Watch documented the death of over 800 people that day, with other right groups estimating it at 2500.
The 21-year-old, who has been held without trial for almost four years, went on hunger strike to protest his detention and needed to be treated for a heart condition early in the year after his situation deteriorated.
His trial was adjourned twenty times, and serious concerns about his health and the prison's dire condition were raised repeatedly.
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.