CAIRO: Fifty-nine detainees were reported Friday to have been infected with scabies while they were locked in a room at Haram Police Station in Giza, and the incident has raised concerns of improper detention conditions in Egypt’s jails and prisons.
Scabies is a skin disease caused by a mite infestation that occurs due to a lack of personal hygiene, a fundamental right according to human rights Lawyer Mohamed Zarea.
Detainees who have their detention period repeatedly renewed at police stations “are deprived of their right to different privileges because police stations are only established for short-term detentions and not for the purpose of permanent detention,” Zarea added.
“Recently we have been seeing a lot of detainees locked in rooms at police stations for long detention periods of up to two months, making them vulnerable to be infected with dangerous respiratory and skin diseases,” said Mohamed Zarea, the head of the Arab Penal Reform Organization, in comments to The Cairo Post Saturday.
Zarea added, “The number of detainees at detention places is becoming abnormal,” noting that four detainees died last month due to suffocation in overcrowded detention rooms at police stations.
Mass arrests due to political turmoil have led to widespread overcrowding at police stations, which are now playing the role of prisons, “although they are not prepared or designed to medically serve the detainees,” Zarea said.
Unlike prisons, Zarea noted that police stations cannot provide food and medical care regularly, and might not provide any at all. “What is happening now is a violation of the Egyptian law that guarantees the right for every detainee to be protected from physical abuse… this is a kind of physical abuse,” he said.
He added, “Some detainees go through difficult procedures to receive food from their families, besides, they do not have the chance for recreation and personal hygiene.”
Many human rights organizations have previously issued reports condemning the poor conditions of detention rooms, which are frequently maxed passed capacity.
As a result, a move was made last month by the Ministry of Interior to start installing air conditioners at some police stations after reported heat-related illnesses.
Although he previously welcomed the move as a “good first step,” Zarea told The Cairo Post on Aug. 14 the decision “does little to address the problems of mismanaged, overcrowded detention centers in police stations.”
“Authorities have to respect these detainees, even if they were held over committing crimes,” he added.
Egypt is obligated to protect the health of prisoners and detainees under the Constitution, prison regulations and international agreements.