CAIRO (MEMO) – Egyptian authorities should make figures about prisoners public, including how many people have been detained in recent years under a nationwide crackdown, nine human rights organizations have said.
Their statement comes as authorities continue to whitewash abuses in the country and act without transparency.
The prison authority has not released figures on prisoners since the nineties and the president has refused to answer journalists’ questions, the co-signing organizations say.
Since 2013 Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has overseen a widespread crackdown on opposition members, journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders.
Estimates put the number of political prisoners at around 60,000. Reports show that they live in overcrowded prison cells, they are systematically tortured and denied medical care as a punitive measure.
Between 2013 and 2021 the Egyptian government has built dozens of new prisons bringing the total number of official detention facilities in 2021 to 168.
“The Egyptian government withholds information on the detainee population as if it’s a state secret, but Egyptians have a right to know how many people their government is detaining and how they are treating them,” said Amr Magdi, senior Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), one of the nine organizations that signed the statement.
“Lack of transparent figures on the prison population deprives civil society from fundamental tools to assess the effectiveness of the penal system and monitor prison conditions and other vital human rights issues.”
As well as this, thousands of prisoners are held in unofficial and secret detention sites run by the National Security Agency.
Tens of thousands of people are in jail under pretrial detention and kept in prison without trial despite the fact that pretrial detention should only be used as an exceptional measure and for the shortest period of time.
Authorities should grant access to independent groups, establish an independent authority to investigate ill-treatment and create an online database for families to locate where their relatives are being held, said the statement, which was also signed by the Committee for Justice and the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights.
“The Egyptian government punishes prisoners and their relatives, and all of Egyptian society by depriving the public of information about those in custody,” Magdi added.
“Egyptians have the right to ask and receive clear and comprehensive answers.”