Prisoners demand conditional release as violence continues in prisons

Distraught families demonstrated outside Cairo's State Television building on Sunday to demand the release of relatives they believe are being unfairly held in Egypt's prisons.

Mothers and fathers waved banners and chanted as lines of nearby soldiers looked on.

They demanded that the government honor a law that states any prisoner who has served three quarters of his or her sentence is eligible for conditional release.

Article 52 of the prison law, which dates back to 1956, says that such prisoners may be released if their behavior in detention shows they can sustain themselves and that their release will not endanger public security.

Demonstrators also demanded to fulfill a previous pledge by former Interior Minister Mahmoud Wagdy, who briefly succeeded Habib al-Adly, that convicts who escaped during the 25 January Revolution and had served half of their sentences would be released if they handed themselves back in.

Demonstrator Mohamed Omar Saeed, 42, said his father had been in prison for four decades after being found guilty of killing someone. The 80-year-old is currently being held in Tora prison near Cairo.

“It’s not right. My father should have been out of prison after 26 years. His date to leave was 1995," Saeed said.

One 45-year-old mother said her young son Mohamed had been held in Fayoum prison for the past two years.

“There has been no food there for a week,” she said.

The demonstration came as fresh reports of shootings and mistreatment emerged from both Tora prison and Qatta prison, located on the outskirts of the capital.

On Saturday, two men were seriously wounded when guards reportedly fired live rounds through their cell window at Qatta, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), which follows prison issues. One man was shot in the head and the other in the stomach.

A video posted on YouTube on Saturday purportedly shows the immediate aftermath of the incident. As a small crowd of people tries to help, a man lies nearly motionless on the floor with a white towel or bandage clasped to his head. Another lies on a carpet, his chest apparently soaked in blood, rocking back and forth in agony.

According to Magda Boutros, a researcher at EIPR, the incident occurred because guards in nearby watch-towers routinely fire rounds at the prison wall for no apparent reason. She said two men were eventually taken off the site after prisoners managed to phone a guard.

She added that prison guards were still refusing to enter Qatta prison because of safety concerns. Food was being left for inmates to fight over at the entrance to blocks and waste was not being cleared, she said. Photographs from inside a prison courtyard show enormous piles of plastic bags, rotting food and discarded bottles and paper.

“There has been a sit-in and hunger strike at Qatta for the past three days,” said Boutros. “The prisoners are asking for conditional release to be applied.”

An investigation has begun into an incident at Tora prison in which 12 prisoners and two officers were wounded in a disturbance which ended with metal pellets being fired at inmates. According to a state prosecutor report, this occured when prisoners began hurling stones at security staff guarding the facility after a demonstration about early release.

But prisoners who spoke to the EIPR said the firing was unprovoked.

Egypt's security apparatus has been disrupted since police were deliberately withdrawn from the streets on 28 January, and prisoners were forced to escape from some prisons, in the midst of the mass pro-democracy protests that eventually toppled former president Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

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