After attending Ahmed Gomaa and his comrades’ trial, and because of my initial role as a human rights advocate, I want to write about the violations that Yusuf Talaat and Mohamed Soltan have faced in prison. Their voices were too faint and Gomaa took it upon himself to tell me their stories.
Yusuf Talaat, a pharmacist detained since August 2013, had been having severe back pain and the prison doctor did nothing but gave him some pain killers. When Yusuf asked the doctor if he needed an MRI, the doctor replied that according to prison protocols he must do an X-ray first, and then reassess the condition to see if he needs a MRI or not. Yusuf then requested an X-ray, but days and months passed without this X-ray coming through. At that point, Yusuf was obliged to go to the prosecutor’s office every 15 days. He had to ride the humiliating police van, sit with his hands chained, and wait longer than ten hours on the floor for his turn to enter the prosecutor’s office. This only made his condition worsen. In December 2013 he was transferred from Al-Akrab prison to another prison. When he tried to explain to a police officer that he would need clothes, blankets, and medication, the police officer not only rejected his request, but cursed him and spent the rest of the night torturing him and his comrades; Ahmed Gomaa and the dean of faculty of engineering in Helwan University were amongst the tortured. The police officer stripped their clothes down to their underwear, made them sit in squatting positions (which is very painful for a person with lumbar disc prolapse), and left them like this in the cold December winter. He continued threatening them, if they were to disobey, they would face more torture. After the torture session, they were taken to a small prison cell, fit for eleven people and already full with 38 other people, with no clothes to shelter them from the winter.
Yusuf’s back pain continued to become more and more severe and once again, he asked to see the prison doctor. After a week Yusuf was allowed a visit from the prison doctor, the same doctor he had seen in Al-Akrab prison. Once again, Yusuf told the doctor that he needed to do an X-ray to know the severity of his condition. Once again, days and months passed without the X-ray. His condition continued to worsen, especially as the humiliating visits to the prosecutor’s office continued and Yusuf soon became immobilized. On 28-3-2014, his comrades found him comatose. He was taken to the prison clinic, supposing that the doctor in the clinic will ask to send him to the Tora prison hospital. Ironically, the only doctor in the prison clinic was a dentist! The dentist asked Tora prison hospital to send Yusuf a physician, but that never happened. Five hours later, the police officer told him he would be sent to Al Manial hospital. Another seven hours passed and the police officer told him that for “security issues’ they would not send him to the hospital. Another hour passed, and a physician from Tora prison hospital arrived, examined Yusuf and wrote a report asking for Yusuf to be sent to a specialized and equipped hospital.
Thus another disgraceful part of the story began. The police officer refused to let Yusuf back to his prison cell, out of fear he may die there. The dentist refused to keep him in the clinic for the same reason. Eventually, by dawn they agreed to let him back to his prison cell and transfer him to Tora prison hospital in the early morning. In the early morning Yusuf was finally transferred to Tora prison hospital where a young doctor examined him and said that Yusuf was in shock and had to be transferred to the ICU. Yusuf heard the doctor telling his colleague that this case is very serious and might deteriorate any time. “We should transfer him to another hospital to clear our responsibility,” the doctor said. A few days later, a consultant of internal medicine checked Yusuf and requested an ECG, full blood count, liver functions test, kidney functions test and neck duplex. However, only the full blood count and ECG were done.
In the hospital Yusuf met with several other detained comrades. The first of them was Ali Fath Albab, the VP of the Shoura counsel before the coup, who was also transferred to the hospital after his health severely deteriorated during his detention. Fath Albab had an open heart surgery shortly before his arrest and was unable to take his medication after his arrest. The medication was unavailable in the prison hospital, and because he was banned from personal visits his family could not provide him with the medication from outside. Yusuf heard the doctor responsible for Fath Albab’s condition telling two of his colleagues that this patient was “political”. When his colleagues asked what that meant he repeated the word “political” again. They repeated the question. He answered that it meant they had strict orders to silence him with some investigations. If his condition were to get worse, they would only give him pain killer.
Yusuf also saw Mohamed Soltan and Mohammad Abdel Maksoud. The former MP was arrested in very bad health status after a failed liver transplant, and whilst the prison doctors said that he needed to be transferred to a specialized liver center, he was nonetheless sent back to his prison cell. They did not give a damn about his life.
Yusuf Talaat’s condition was only worsening to the extent that he would lose his consciousness up to 15 times a day. The doctor told him that he must be examined by a neurosurgeon, but there were none in the prison hospital so they proposed to ask a Neuropsychiatry doctor to check his case, lest the specialist be able to give a hint about Yusuf’s diagnosis. So Yusuf actually went to the neuropsychiatry specialist, and told the specialist all about is health conditions. In less than thirty seconds, and without even looking at Yusuf, the doctor replied, “you must be depressed, cheer up!” and left.
Time continued to pass and no medical services were delivered to Yusuf. He lost his consciousness many times in the court during his first trial sessions. When he went back to the hospital, they immediately took him back to his prison cell under the premise that they “had orders to do so.” Yusuf tried to tell them that the requested investigations were unfinished, but they did not care.
Mohamed Soltan’s story marks another disgraceful chapter. Mohamed was detained at the end of August 2013 when police forces attacked his house looking for his father, Dr. Salah Soltan. Police forces arrested and injured Soltan and added him to the case 317, and even his request to be in the same prison cell with his father was rejected.
Mohamed began a hunger strike in January 2014. The prison administration tried to negotiate with Dr. Salah Soltan and claimed that if Mohamed were to break his hunger strike, they would allow the father and son to be in same prison cell. Dr. Salah Soltan refused to negotiate. After more than 90 days on hunger strike Mohamed lost more than 45 kilograms of his body weight, and ketone bodies started to appear in his urine (which means he is severely starved). His blood sugar level often drops to 50 and he often falls unconscious. Soltan is not treated like any hunger strike prisoner in the whole world, where they administer intravenous infusion of amino acids, glucose, and minerals. Even in Israel this is the well-known protocol to deal with Palestinian hunger strike prisoners, to keep their bodies functioning. In Egypt, Mohamed is left to die slowly.
Other prisoners like Abd Allah Elshamy, a journalist, and Khaled Sahloub who was detained in the famous case known as “The Marriot cell,” are also on hunger strike. What happens to the political prisoners in Egypt is a heinous and a very disgraceful violation of human rights. It is a stab to any living conscience in Egypt, when doctors abandon their ethics for political conflict and treat their patients according to political agendas. Whether a prisoner gets treatment or not is a decision to be made by police officers. Now in Egypt, getting detained is the worst nightmare one can have – to be left in the dark dungeons, slowly dying. This is why in Egypt being a political prisoner is “dying to live.”