Civil rights sedating violent prisoners
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.
The ban prevented some family members from visiting relatives on death row who were executed without notice, violating Egyptian law.
Though the Interior Ministry lifted the blanket visit ban in August 2015, the authorities continue to regularly and arbitrarily deny visits, whether by relatives or lawyers, and to limit their length to around five to ten minutes.
By the 2000s, this conflict had ebbed, and the authorities released thousands who had been held for years without trial. Set within the Tora Prisons Area, a government compound on the Nile River at the southern edge of Cairo, Scorpion sits at the end of the state’s repressive pipeline, overseen at nearly all points by the Interior Ministry and its internal security service, the National Security Agency (Qata` al-Amn al-Watani).
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.
At least six Scorpion inmates died in custody during or soon after this lockdown period (see below).While the Egyptian authorities generally try to prevent unsanctioned information about prisons from reaching the public, they go to even greater lengths at Scorpion.Visits with relatives and lawyers are irregular, banned for long periods, and last for just a few minutes.Built amid one of the country’s most violent internal conflicts, Scorpion has for most of its history been used to hold those viewed as Egypt’s most dangerous prisoners, including alleged members of al-Gama`a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group) and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, both of which participated in a widespread extremist insurgency in the 1980s and 1990s that targeted foreigners and the Egyptian government and left hundreds dead.Among Scorpion’s prisoners were those accused of taking part in the assassinations of President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 and speaker of parliament Rifaat al-Mahgoub in 1990.
Staff at Scorpion Prison beat inmates severely, isolate them in cramped “discipline” cells, cut off access to families and lawyers, and interfere with medical treatment, according to the 80-page report, “‘We Are in Tombs’: Abuses in Egypt’s Scorpion Prison.” The report documents cruel and inhuman treatment by officers of Egypt’s Interior Ministry that probably amounts to torture in some cases and violates basic international norms for the treatment of prisoners.