During the Egyptian revolution of January 2011, security forces massacred over 100 prisoners, and injured thousands more in many of Egypt's prisons. Whilst in other prisons, the state engineered the escape of prisoners in an attempt to destabilise the revolution. The Egyptian state are now attempting to cover up the atrocities.
During the Egyptian revolution of January 25th 2011, the world’s media was focused on events in and around Tahir square. As you would expect, the state was not going to give in without a fight. They responded to the largely ‘peaceful’ protesters, by killing 846 people, and injuring a further 600.
Across Egypt’s prison estate, prisoners were beaten and killed by prison and police officers in what has been described as a “shoot to kill” policy. In some jails, prisoners were actively let out of prison by state officials in order to try and create chaos and disorder and disrupt the revolution. It is estimated that around 30,000 people escaped from prison during the revolution.
An investigation by the attorney general is currently underway as to what actually took place in the Egyptian prisons. Eye witnesses and relatives of victims believe that prison officers deliberately set out to execute prisoners, and have forwarded many mobile phone clips to independent human rights investigators. Despite hundreds of complaints over several months, nothing has happened. The interior ministry is not the slightest bit subtle in its attempts to cover up the atrocities.
One relative, Nadia Lotfi, claims that she received a phone call from her brother, Ashraf. He was imprisoned in Cairo’s Appeals Prison. He told her that, “they have locked us all in the maximum security bottom floor, and are randomly shooting at us all”. Nadia never heard from her brother again. The next she heard about him was that his body had been sent to Cairo’s morgue. He had died instantly from a bullet to his head.
Many of the prisoners had been shot in the head, which conflicts with the prison staff version of events. They claim that prisoners were only shot if they were trying to escape. It is fair to say that prisoners who are running away and trying to escape, would not be shot in the head, ‘execution style’.
“In al-Qatta prison, for instance, the North Giza Prosecutor has a list of 33 prisoners who died between the 25th January and 1st March 2011 inside the prison. Out of the 31 prisoners who are documented as having died from live ammunition, 14 sustained bullets in the head, face or neck, and 14 sustained bullets in the chest, stomach or back. In other words, 28 out of the 31 prisoners on the Prosecutor's list were shot in the upper half of the body. Moreover, in most cases no warning preceded the shots. This further suggests that the aim of the gunfire was not to stop inmates from escaping, but to kill them.”
“In Tora prison, prison officers shot at prisoners in their cellblock from the 29th January onwards, killing an unknown number of prisoners and injuring dozens. In some blocks, the guards went and shot prisoners inside their rooms, while in other blocks, they threw teargas canisters inside the blocks. Once the prisoners managed to break out of the rooms to the block's courtyard to escape from the smoke, they were shot at. In addition to random shootings, testimonies collected from Liman Tora prison reveal that some prison officers stormed cellblocks and shot at prisoners at close range.”
“In the Appeals prison, at least 14 prisoners died on the 30th and 31st January. Evidence gathered indicates that some of those prisoners were tied up and severely beaten by prison officers before being shot at point blank range. These allegations, if confirmed in official and independent investigations, would mean a large number of prisoners were summarily executed. In the report, the sister of one of the Appeals prison victims describes the corpse of her brother, as she saw it at the Zeinhom morgue on the 7th February. The body was covered with bruises. His wrists and ankles were bruised from handcuffs, his shoulders and head were heavily bruised and the bullet that killed him entered from under the chin and exited from the head. This is proof that the killing was intentional and happened while the prisoner was under the control of the person who shot him.”
The interior ministry report that the vast majority of the escapees have been returned to prison, and that normal service has been resumed. In Egyptian prisons, normal service refers to practices such as this.
There are allegations that in some of the prisons, the escapes were actually engineered by the state. In Al-Quatta prison, a senior officer was murdered by security forces for allegedly attempting to stop prisoners from escaping.
Whatever the exact truth is, there is no denying that is some prisons, inmates were massacred by prison officers, regardless of whether they were attempting to escape. There is also sufficient evidence to show that in other prisons, the state engineered the release / escape of thousands of prisoners, in a last ditch attempt to destabilise the revolution.
Whilst not a secret, the atrocities committed in Egyptian prisons during the revolution have been underreported in the mainstream media. Hopefully, the coming months will see greater coverage, as families, and human rights groups, push for the truth.