By Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville –
Date: 3 April 2020
While the situation is not in any way comparable with Syria, we are nevertheless also very concerned about the overcrowded prisons in Egypt and the risk of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus among the country’s more than 114,000 inmates. We therefore also urge the Egyptian Government to follow the lead of other states around the world and release those convicted of non-violent offences and those who are in pre-trial detention, who make up just below one third of those in jail.
In Egypt, among those we recommend should also be released are administrative detainees and those who are arbitrarily detained due to their political or human rights work. We also call for the release of those in particularly vulnerable situations due to their age (children and older persons), and due to serious underlying medical conditions.
Egypt’s prisons and detention facilities are often overcrowded, unsanitary, and suffer from a lack of resources. Detainees are routinely denied access to adequate medical care and treatment.
We are also concerned by reports the Government has moved to quash criticism on social media, and silence the work of human rights defenders and journalists focused on the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 20 March, there were reports that 15 individuals were arrested for spreading alleged “false news” about coronavirus and recently we received information of a doctor and a pharmaceutical worker arrested for a Facebook video and posts complaining about the lack of masks. We advise that, rather than sanctioning critical voices through a punitive approach, the Egyptian authorities address disinformation by providing clear, reliable and fact-based information and seek to engage the population, and empower civil society to fight the common threat of the pandemic.