Egyptian Front has relied on news, reports documented by rights organization as well as interviews with former prisoners to hereby introduce Port Said Women’s prison and present its conditions from 2013 and until now. Egyptian Front has generally concluded that in this prison female prisoners suffer from over-crowdedness, poorly ventilated spaces, poor healthcare services, low quality and quantity of food provided and undrinkable water. This raises the cost of imprisonment for the prisoners and their families. This in addition to the grave suffering of the prisoners who don’t get visits from their families.
Egyptian Front has not identified the exact date of establishing Port Said prison. Yet, the oldest document that the Egyptian Front has was the decree of the Minister of Interior no. 72 for the year 1959 which referred to the prison as a building that has already been established.
Port Said prison is located in the circle of (El Sharq) police station near the new trading area. It is bordered from the north by(El Sharq) street, from the west by a closed street adjacent to Central Prison of Armed Forces, and from the south by a road opposite to Egypt’s free-market company.
According to the order of the Minister of Interior no. 12299 for the year 1999, Port Said general prison is divided into two wards; one for the men and the other for the women. The decree also indicated that the capacity of the prison is 768 prisoners in total.
According to the testimony of a former female prisoner at Port Said prison, the women’s ward is a building located in the middle of an open yard and fenced with iron walls. Female prisoners reach the prison yard through the main gate which overlooks the visitation cage, chief of detective’s room, and the administrative building.
The women’s prison is comprised of 4 cellblocks, 5 relatively spacious rooms, and a library. There are no solitary confinement cells in the prison. Worthy to note that women are transferred to and from the prison by police vehicles made from iron. The iron increases the temperature inside the vehicle and thus jeopardizes the life of the prisoners especially that they spend around 12 hours inside of it.
The condition of the cells, wards, and prison facilities:
- Over-crowdedness, ventilation, and cleanliness of the wards
The size of the prison rooms varies from small rooms “cells” with area 2* 2 and relatively larger rooms “wards” with the area around 4* 4. The beds in prison are three-story beds comprised of steel pallets. The small cells have around 8 beds (two three-story beds and two separate beds). Meanwhile, the number of beds in the largest ward reaches 16. The prison beds don’t suffice all prisoners and are usually distributed among the prisoners according to their seniority which forces newer prisoners to sleep on the floor. The prison administration allows pillows in but not mattresses. As a result, the prisoners resort to using old mattresses that belonged to former prisoners or they sew a blanket or two to sleep on instead. As for the rest of the bedding, the prisoners get these from family visits.
Some reports state there are large windows (2 m2* 2 m2) in some of the prison rooms. However, a former prisoner reported that there was only a small window in the place of her detention. She added that all windows are covered with wire mesh and there is only one fan in the room. This results in poor ventilation especially with the continuous smoking of other prisoners.
Adding to this, the steel walls that circle the prison increase the temperature inside the rooms even in winter. Even though daylight lightens up the rooms, the rooms are not directly exposed to sunlight. Also, the sun doesn’t reach except to a limited area of the exercising yard because of the steel walls and thus affects the health of the prisoners.
The prisoners in each room take turns in cleaning their cells and wards two times a day including cleaning the bathroom and throwing out the garbage. Some prisoners pay 20 EGP worth coupons or a cigarette cartridge (10 packs) and in return, another prisoner would clean instead of her. Nevertheless, cockroaches are everywhere in prison which caused skin disease to a number of prisoners. Also, it has been reported that snakes and rats have also sneaked inside some wards. In fact, a former prisoner said that the prison chief detectives decided to subject one of the wards to what is known as “elTakdeer” (Hazing) after they kept screaming upon seeing a snake inside the ward.
As for the laundry, a number of prisoners who are sentenced for long a long period carry out this task in exchange for 200 EGP per month (this was before 2016) or what is equivalent to the price of 100 cigarette packs
Inside each big and medium-sized rooms there is a small traditional bathroom and shower. Also, there is a bathroom area named “elMaghsala” (the laundromat) in a building outside the ward where the prisoners usually go to wash their clothes and cook food. The prison’s water is relatively clean; however, they put in a chemical substance known as “elShabba” (Alum) which makes the water not suitable for drinking and causes hair loss and continuous vomiting for the prisoners. This forces the prisoners to depend on bottled water which the families bring to prison.
The prison administration daily provides every cell with a cartoon box known as “El-Garraya”. This box contains food supplies such as oil, cheese, cucumber, onion, and tomatoes. Each prisoner gets three or four bread a day and two eggs per week. The prison also provides meals known as “El-Ta’yeen”, yet its quality is very low. According to a former prisoner “The stuff is disgusting. The animals wouldn’t want to eat it. Prisoners used to throw it in the sewer and only take the meat. We used not to eat the meat because it looked disgusting and because we didn’t need it. Anyway, we would leave it if someone wanted it”.
Some of the prisoners depend on family visits to get food. The prison provides the prisoners with one fridge and a deep freezer so that they can store their food. The prisoners would later cook or heat their food with electrical heaters that they get from outside. Also, some prisoners cook using the supplies provided by the prison. As for those who don’t get visits, “El-Garraya” supplies don’t suffice them and resort to taking other prisoners’ leftovers. In Port Said women prison there is no cafeteria nor canteen. Instead, a person with some canned food boxes stands in the middle of the prison yard where the prisoners could buy some food using coupons.
The prison administration doesn’t house prisoners according to the crimes they allegedly committed. For example, some prisoners detained against the backdrop of political cases are housed with criminal convicts. Also, the prison administration discriminates between political and criminal prison where political prisoners are not allowed to work inside the prison. The prison administration depends on “Mosayyera” (prisoner facilitator) to monitor the prisoners, especially the political prisoners. They are also responsible for governance inside cells and wards. The prisoners pay money or cigarettes for the facilitator in order not to get teased or harassed.
Punitive measures in prison vary from verbal assaults, hitting with hands and with “El-Falaka” (they tie the prisoner’s foot up and hit her with a long stick until swollen), and kicking the prisoner outside her ward or exiling her to another prison. Sometimes the administration would evacuate the small cell to enforce solitary confinement on one prisoner, and it doesn’t usually exceed three days. The officers are the ones who execute these punishments especially “El-Falaka”.
There are no standard proceedings through which prisoners can file complaints but instead the prisoners do this orally. In case a complaint is filed, officers don’t interrogate all the witnesses and parties involved but instead, they would punish according to their temperament. According to a former prisoner, once the officer punished two prisoners because they raised their voices during a fight which “awakened the officers”
There isn’t a hospital in Port Said women’s prison; only a clinic located in the administrative building which lacks both cleanliness standards and readiness to treat different health conditions. According to field research conducted by Egyptian Initiation for Personal Rights, the prison doctor is perceived by the female prisoners as a “general practitioner” who cannot be trusted to provide adequate healthcare service.
Former female prisoners have validated this as one testified to Egyptian Front that she couldn’t tell if the prison doctor was a real doctor or not; especially that he wore a police officer uniform. She said she preferred that one of her cellmates would treat her if there was a need to. She added that the doctor heads to the prison yard where the female prisoners tell complaint orally then he gives out antibiotics and painkillers without any real medical check.
Doctors with different specializations such as dentistry, gynecology, and obstetrics usually come to prison at spaced intervals and stay for a few hours. This forces the prisoners to wait for a long time before they get checked up by a specialized doctor. Also, the prison administration discriminates against criminal prisoners regarding transfer to external hospitals; it would cautiously treat political prisoners and would not dedicate the same attention to criminal ones except in emergencies. Also, proceedings of reporting emergent situations as well as getting transfer permission takes a long time.
In many cases, this leads to deterioration of the health of prisoners as the prisoners need to report to the facilitator who reports to the warden who in return reports to the chief of detectives. Then the chief reports to prison administration to either grant transfer permission or reject it.
Some of the female prisoners depend on family visits to get medications. They would describe their symptoms to their families who would then consult a doctor and bring them the required medicine. The prison administration allows medications in except injections. In case injections were allowed, the administration keeps it either with the facilitator or in the clinic.
New prisoners take pregnancy tests at their own expense before being admitted to the prison. Pregnant prisoners and mothers with children stay in a ward called “elMotab’a” (Follow-up). This ward is poorly ventilated due to continuous smoking and with three-story beds. Every mother gets her bed; meanwhile, the pregnant prisoners sleep on the floor. Even though the prison administration provides pregnant prisoners and mothers with additional food supplies such as milk, bread, and “allowance” for baby formula, it doesn’t always provide the supplies regularly. Also, the prison administration doesn’t provide sanitary pads for free nor does it sell it in prison. The only way female prisoners could get sanitary pads is through family visits, and those who don’t get family visits borrow a pad from their prison mates.
In 2013, the Ministry of Interior rejected the request of three civil society organizations (Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and Youth doctors coalition)
to send a medical delegation to Port Said prison. This happened after families of prisoners sent out complaints upon visits ban on January 24, 2013, and closing wards and cells in Port Said prison amid a deteriorating security situation. Families of the prisoners expressed their concerns regarding the lack of medications that prisoner patients need as well as the possibility of a shortage of food needed for pregnant women or their children.
- Visitations, correspondence, and communicating with the outside world
The women prisoners get visits in the same prison cage as convicted men. Before the visit of the National Council of Human Rights on March 8, 2016, a lot of families used to complain about the short duration of visits as well as preventing the female prisoners from going to court hearings. However, after the visit in 2016, the conditions inside the prison have slightly improved. Also, news has circulated that the prison administration has negotiated with prisoners to improve their conditions inside the prison in exchange that prisoners will praise the prison conditions in front of the delegation.
The prison administration provides some newspapers and magazines for the prisoners for a monthly contribution around 20 or 30 EGP in the period before 2016. Also, there are television sets in the rooms that only show the first and the second national channels.
- The Right to Education
Several examination committees are held inside Port Said prison. Also, the prison allows books and study booklets in all year long. However, detention conditions force the students to study in a corner in the prison yard or wait until the rest of prisoners sleep at night to study. There is a library inside the prison and the prison administration provides books at different time intervals.
Meanwhile, the books which the families provide are heavily monitored by the prison administration and its entering depends on the personal evaluation of the officer examining it.