Westerners’ smuggled letters offer glimpse of Egyptian prisons

The New York Times reports on the conditions inside Egypt’s prisons revealed through the accounts provided by several Western prisoners including a United States citizen, Mohamed Soltan.

Mr. Soltan is a 25-year-old graduate of Ohio State University who moved to Egypt in February to work in the petroleum industry, said his sister, Hanaa Soltan, a clinical social worker in Washington, D.C.

Their father, Salah Soltan, a professor at Cairo University, is an outspoken member of the Muslim Brotherhood but hardly a die-hard. He made headlines in September when he publicly apologized for the Brotherhood’s mistakes, including failing to ally with liberal activists. Brotherhood officials dismissed the apology as Mr. Soltan’s personal views, and a few days later he, too, was arrested.

Ms. Soltan said her brother had been an opponent of the Brotherhood “and very vocal about it as well.”

But she said that after Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi responded to a wave of mass protests by ousting Mr. Morsi, her brother joined a Brotherhood-led sit-in at Rabaa Square here to defend what he considered the norms of American-style democracy. “He thought it did not matter how incompetent the elected leaders are,” she said. “There is no hope of realizing the fruits of the revolution if you don’t respect democracy and you throw out the results of the ballots on the basis of displeasure at someone’s missteps.”

Mr. Soltan was shot in the arm on Aug. 14, when security forces broke up sit-ins at Rabaa and another square, killing nearly a thousand people. He was recovering from surgery to remove the bullet when the police raided his home and arrested him, he wrote in his letter, which he addressed to his mother.

Thrown into a group cell nicknamed The Fridge, “a room without seats, benches, windows and lights,” he recalled that one guard joked “that he could get me anything I wanted, drugs, alcohol, prostitutes. Just not due process.”

Mr. Soltan wrote that he was blindfolded and questioned the next morning and told he would be charged with six crimes, none of which, he said, had “any basis in reality,” including “membership in a terrorist organization, membership in an armed militia, disturbing the peace, falsifying and spreading rumors about the internal affairs of Egypt, and finally, the killing of protesters.” (Interior Ministry officials have sometimes argued, implausibly, that Brotherhood snipers fired at the Brotherhood’s supporters.)

Mr. Soltan expressed shock and surprise over a ritual that Egyptians consider standard for criminal suspects: The detainees ran between rows of security officers who struck them with rocks and sticks, known here sarcastically as the Tashreefa, or honoring ceremony.

“The officers stripped off our pants and shirts as they beat us with clubs,” he wrote. [Continue reading…]

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