Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will begin a new term in office this week after winning an election that could hardly be called competitive. Meanwhile there is real concern about the circumstances of the only candidate to ever win a truly open presidential election in Egypt’s history, Mohamed Morsi. Elected in 2012 and deposed in 2013, he is no ordinary prisoner. The conditions of his detention will be of interest to every Egyptian, but particularly those responsible in the Egyptian chain of command, including President Sisi himself.
Morsi is being held in the notorious “Scorpion” section of the Tora prison. Myriad reports have highlighted the cruel and degrading punishments carried out within its walls. A former warden interviewed by Human Rights Watch in 2012 said: “It was designed so that those who go in don’t come out again, unless dead. It was designed for political prisoners.” It is unsurprising then that this is where Morsi and many of his fellow Freedom and Justice Party leaders are now being held.
Not only is there concern for the conditions of Morsi’s detention, but there is a real worry about his deteriorating health. Morsi suffers from diabetes, an affliction which is easily manageable with simple medical care and an appropriate diet. However, a lack of both seems to be causing him serious problems. In the transcript of a recent trial appearance, he describes the loss of sight in his left eye and how low blood sugar made him fall “completely unconscious”.
At 67, Morsi is being made to sleep on the floor with only two blankets. On top of this, it appears he is being kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, with an hour to exercise alone. There is no indication that he has any contact with other people except for the guards, and it seems his calls for attention go frequently unheard. It is pertinent to note that the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has said that in certain cases, solitary confinement can be classified as torture.
Since he was moved to Tora prison three years ago, his family and legal team have only been allowed to visit him twice. This is the background against which we have prepared a report at their request. They are deeply concerned and have sought an independent review.
Our review is confined solely to Morsi’s detention conditions and not the trial process. We were hoping to visit Morsi in his prison cell to see for ourselves, but our request was never responded to. And despite all our attempts, the Egyptian government has not given us any information that would have us believe our findings are untrue or misplaced.
Our objective was to get at the truth of his detention conditions and in doing so, our inquiry provided the Egyptian authorities the opportunity to establish that his conditions were not as previously reported or that they were being addressed and improved to a level acceptable and consistent with customary international and Egyptian law.
In the absence of any official evidence, the information we gathered included statements from Morsi’s family, interviews with a doctor that had provided treatment to him before 2013, and a plethora of other reports and evidence submitted to us, including his own words transcribed when he was last presented to court in November 2017. What we have gathered tends to justify concerns about his conditions, and our conclusions are stark.
If Morsi is not provided with adequate medical care soon, the consequence could be his premature death. He is at risk of liver failure, caused by not receiving the medical treatment he is entitled to. His confinement not only fails to meet international standards – the “Mandela rules” – it could also once again meet the threshold for torture in accordance with Egyptian and international law. Torture is a crime that can be prosecuted in many countries, other than Egypt, under the principles of universal jurisdiction. This applies to all those responsible up to and including the current president.
It is not too late to salvage the situation. If the Egyptian authorities gave us the opportunity to examine matters first-hand, we would be only too delighted to revisit our review. If we have been unfair in our conclusion we are open to receiving any evidence to the contrary. Until then, it cannot be clearer that Morsi must be given medical treatment; he should be allowed the appropriate visits from his family and legal team and that he must be removed from solitary confinement.
Now is the time for President Sisi to act in the interest of all Egyptians and begin the process of delivering the rule of law to international standards in one of the world’s great nations, healing the divisions in the country he will preside over for another four years.
Crispin Blunt MP, Lord Edward Faulks QC and Dr Paul Williams MP have released a report with findings into the detention of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi
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