ISTANBUL

Amid a strict information clampdown in Egypt, a US-based international human rights group on Monday cautioned against an apparent COVID-19 pandemic outbreak inside several prisons and police stations.

In a report, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that several Egyptian prisons and police satiations have reported suspected COVID-19 infections.

“At least 14 prisoners and detainees have died, most likely due to COVID-19 complications, in 10 detention facilities as of July 15,” the report claimed.

Egypt usually faces criticism for mistreating detainees in prisons, however, authorities in Cairo have repeatedly stressed that the provision of all legal guarantees and health care to prisoners is adhered to without discrimination.

The HRW said that scores of prisoners and detainees have shown mild to severe pandemic symptoms with prisons having insufficient medical care and virtually no access to testing for the virus or symptom screening.

Joe Stork, Middle East, and North Africa director at the HRW called on Egyptian authorities to “take immediate steps to provide everyone in detention adequate medical care and measures to contain the virus outbreak”.

Quoting witnesses, the HRW report said the overcrowding has made social distancing impossible.

“Prison authorities appear to have done no contact tracing measures and have done little to isolate prisoners who show symptoms,” said the report.

An earlier report of the HRW had also warned against the pandemic outbreak in Egyptian prisons.

A report by the Geneva-based independent human rights group Committee for Justice had also revealed that over 190 suspected pandemic cases have been detected in 12 prisons and 29 polices stations in Egypt.

The report further said the infected include 160 inmates and 30 officials from Interior Ministry and soldiers. It further reported 14 suspected deaths among inmates in five police stations and five prisons in four governorates.

The HRW has called on Egyptian authorities to carry out widespread testing of inmates, accelerate the process of their release, and make information relating to the prevalence of pandemic in prisons public. It has also asked for allowing prisoners regular communication with their lawyers and families.

Egyptian authorities say that they have released about 13,000 prisoners since February. But the human rights activists say the number is insufficient to ease overcrowding in congested detention centers.

The HRW had estimated the presence of 60,000 political prisoners in Egyptian prisons who suffer from overcrowding and are vulnerable to coronavirus infection.

* Nour Abdullah contributed to this report from Ankara

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