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Some said their family members lost 29 to 34 kilograms (65 to 75 pounds) of weight.
At least six Scorpion inmates died in custody during or soon after this lockdown period (see below).
According to the semi-official National Council for Human Rights, prisons operated at 150 percent of their capacity in 2015.
Over the two years that followed Morsy’s fall, the Egyptian government built or made plans to build eight new prisons. Built in 1993 and officially named Tora Maximum Security Prison, its reputation had long ago earned it a different moniker: the Scorpion.
From roughly March to August 2015, the Interior Ministry banned all visits to Scorpion.
The ban started almost immediately after al-Sisi appointed Egypt’s current interior minister, Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar.
To do so, they rely on a vaguely worded article of Egypt’s prisons law, unchanged since 1956, which allows visits “to be restricted or completely banned due to conditions at certain times for reasons of health or related to security.” Lawyers, when allowed to visit, are restricted to seeing their clients in the office of the prison’s warden or chief of investigations.
A guard or prison official sits in the same room at every meeting and does not allow either lawyer or inmate to have paper or a writing instrument.
In scores of cases documented by Human Rights Watch, those deemed opponents of the government are investigated and arrested by National Security agents, tortured into confessions by those agents during periods of forced disappearance that can last for weeks or months, and then put on trial while being held, in near isolation without meaningful access to a lawyer, in prisons where National Security officers hold sway.
This report, based on 23 interviews with relatives of inmates, lawyers, and a former prisoner, documents abusive conditions in Scorpion.
Authorities there have banned inmates from contacting their families or lawyers for months at a time, held them in degrading conditions without beds, mattresses, or basic hygienic items, humiliated, beaten, and confined them for weeks in cramped “discipline” cells – treatment that probably amounted to torture in some cases – and interfered with their medical care in ways that may have contributed to some of their deaths.
Though Scorpion, like all prisons in Egypt, falls under the administration of the Interior Ministry’s Prisons Authority Sector, in practice the National Security Agency maintains almost total control.
This arrangement, which has been the case since Scorpion’s inception, when the agency was known as State Security Investigations (Mabahith Amn al-Dawla), means that Egypt’s primary internal security agency, with its long record of torture and other abuses, is responsible not only for the investigation and arrest of suspects, but also for their treatment during incarceration.