CAIRO — A top judicial agency in Egypt has agreed to review one of the most notorious prisons in the country, according to a document obtained by the Associated Press on Tuesday.
The 12-page document shows the State Commissioners’ Committee ordered Cairo University to create a team of medical and human rights specialists to assess whether the infamous “Scorpion” prison is suitable to house inmates. The unit is a wing of the Tora prison complex in Cairo.
The document said the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, declined to provide prison records of visits by prisoners’ families and other documents that show how the prison was constructed and furnished.
Once the evaluation is completed, officials will deliver a non-binding verdict on whether the prison is fit for human habitation.
The move is in response to a complaint by prisoners’ families and NGOs urging the government to close the prison. The Interior Ministry spokesman did not immediately answer calls for comment.
Rights lawyer Doaa Moustafa said the move is “a positive step in order to ease the dire conditions” inside the prison.
However, she said prison authorities are still cramming prisoners into packed cells, cutting off access to families and lawyers, and blocking medical treatment.
Rights groups have accused Egyptian police of regularly torturing detainees and of detaining suspected activists or Islamists without reporting their arrests. The government has denied systemic torture, saying there have only been isolated cases.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch said President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has given a “green light” to torture inside detention facilities, allowing officers to act with “almost total impunity.”
El-Sissi has overseen a broad crackdown on dissent since 2013, when he led a military overthrow of his Islamist predecessor, then-President Mohamed Morsi. Security forces jailed thousands of Islamists and killed hundreds as they crushed protests.
More recently, the campaign has increasingly targeted secular activists who criticize the former general’s rule. Freedom of speech has been stifled and many journalists and TV hosts have either been jailed, sacked, or deported.