“Prison Atlas” details Egyptian Cases, Prisoners, and Judges

No one really knows how many political prisoners there are in Egypt. In a January 2019 interview Egypt’s President Sisi told CBS’ 60 Minutes that there were no political prisoners in his jails, but we know that’s not true.

By Brian Dooley

No one really knows how many political prisoners there are in Egypt. In a January 2019 interview Egypt’s President Sisi told CBS’ 60 Minutes that there were no political prisoners in his jails, but we know that’s not true.

In a 2019 report on torture in Egyptian detention, Human Rights First cited a figure of about 65,000 political prisoners, but that’s an educated guess at best. Hard numbers are difficult to pin down and change as people are arrested and released.

Now a new initiative aims at compiling how many women and children were or have been prisoners in 223 Egyptian jails since 2013. It’s an ambitious project, called the Egypt Prison Atlas (EPA). Its source is the NGO Belady, founded by former American/Egyptian political prisoner Aya Hijazi who spent nearly three years in jail for her human right work. Human Rights First and others campaigned for her release, and she was eventually freed in 2017.

The EPA is an impressive searchable database of 2,578 women and child prisoners. It promises to provide data on “arrested women and children, judges presiding over terrorism courts with a breakdown of the verdicts they issue, an overview of prisons in which political prisoners are detained and, finally, it provides a tally of deaths that occur in prisons.”

Details of the cases are featured, including sentences and ages of child prisoners. It’s possible to search by ages, genders, and regions where prisoners were arrested. For example, one prisoner “Aged 15, was arrested as a minor from his friend’s home in Alexandria while he was going to study on January 1, 2014. He was accused of killing two people, attempting to kill a third, and joining a terrorist group. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison on September 2, 2015. He appealed the sentence and he was acquitted on August 18, 2019 and released on August 24, 2019… He was tortured and his glasses were constantly broken.”

Another was “arrested in her home in Alexandria on June 14, 2020 and forcibly disappeared for 4 days until she appeared before the prosecution accused of joining [an illegal] group, spreading false news and abusing social media. She was detained pending investigations.”

In an innovative move, the website features details of 14 judges, listing their backgrounds, the cases over which they have presided in terrorism courts, and the verdicts and sentences they have handed down.

The list includes Hassan Farid, born in 1955. The website states, “He obtained a Bachelor of Law in 1979. He started his judicial career as a prosecutor in Port Said Prosecution; president in Mansoura Prosecution; president in Benha Felony; president in Al Ismailia Felony circuit; president in Tanta Felony circuit, in which he reviewed terrorist cases before he became a president in a criminal circuit of Cairo Appeal Court.”

The site features details of cases he judged, including the 2017 mass trial of 68 defendants in the Helwan Department Raid, where he ordered the execution of eight prisoners, gave life sentences to fifty more, ten years in jail for seven defendants, and five years for three others.

Judge Mohamed Shereen Fahmy is also featured. The site says he has judged 37 terrorism cases, including a 2019 verdict in the Council of Ministers case, where he gave a 15- year prison sentence to prominent blogger and activist Ahmad Douma.

The new site doesn’t offer answers to every question about Egypt’s huge prison system, but it sheds new light on who is consigning people to detention, in what cases, and helps catalogue the number of women and children who have been detained.

Our 2021 report on conditions in Egyptian prisons shows how abuse and detention in those places fuels recruitment into ISIS. Discovering the scale of the problem was a challenge, but for us and other researchers looking at human rights issues in Egypt, the new Egypt Prison Atlas provided by Belady will prove an invaluable resource. You can learn more and access the Atlas here.



  • Brian Dooley

Published on July 3, 2022


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