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Infected with Coronavirus in a 6’ by 9’ prison cell in Egypt

Infected with Coronavirus in a 6’ by 9’ prison cell in Egypt

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Wednesday 2 February 202204:33 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

عندما أُصبت بفيروس كورونا في زنزانة مساحتها 2×3 متراً داخل السجون المصرية

It was the evening of December 30th in 2019. As soon as I got back from work after midnight, I heard a loud knock on my apartment door. I rushed to open it,to face a bunch of security men barging into my apartment. They searched it, and when they didn’t find anything, they took my phone and camera equipment, and then took me to the National Security Agency headquarters (Egypt). I stayed there for 85 days under enforced disappearance, until I was brought before the State Security Prosecution on charges of “contempt of religion”. I was then transferred to another section in Tanta, where I stayed for 40 days until I was transferred to the Tanta General Prison on May 30, 2020. This was during the Coronavirus lockdown.

The conditions inside Egypt’s prisons are very hard to describe. The facilities available to the prisoners there are very scarce and do not even rise to the lowest standards of humane life, especially in the Tanta General Prison, where there are no toilets inside the cells, and no running water to use when going to the bathroom. The space in the cell, which six people are condemned to live in, does not exceed 2 x 3 meters, including a 50 cm kitchen area with a heater for preparing food and the “bernica” (barrel for bathroom use).

Many rumors say that the prison dates back to the earliest days of the British occupation of Egypt and was a stable for keeping horses, thus making it over 100 years old. Other rumors state that it was a prison for criminals and those opposing the British.

My prison experience saw me contracting the Coronavirus inside the Tanta General Prison. This happened as the virus first began to spread and when the state enforced lockdown procedures to limit its spread.

On a very cold night in cell “26A” in the Tanta General Prison, at exactly 2 a.m, I began to feel terribly ill. My temperature had risen to a point that I was seeing things, “hallucinating”, and rambling incomprehensibly. I felt some of my cellmates try to wake me up, and then felt the coolness of someone’s palm on my forehead feeling my temperature. They then held me up and supported me to go to the “bernica”, which is a barrel used as a bathroom inside our cell. They helped me empty water bottles on top of my head in order to lower my temperature even just a little bit. But I couldn’t get back on my feet despite all efforts. I began to hear murmurs around me that I might have contracted the Coronavirus that we have been lately hearing so much about from prison staff. I desperately wished to see my family one more time before I died from medical negligence in the prison in general, and within the cells of political prisoners in particular. In the morning, I heard the cell door being opened, and a number of young men came in to search for any medicine to relieve my pain and fatigue, but they only found a sedative. Everyone in the cell then spoke among themselves and unanimously agreed not to tell anyone about my condition, so that I would not be transferred to isolation, where there are no services or even any sort of care or treatment. They told me, “If you go there, you will surely die.”

Everyone in the tight cell agreed not to tell anyone about my condition, so I wouldn’t be transferred to isolation, where there are no services or treatment. They told me, “If you are taken to isolation, you will surely die”.

But at the same time, I was afraid for those who were with me in the cell. I was afraid that they’d be harmed because of me, but it was already too late. The cellmate who sleeps next to me on the mattress (basically a bunch of blankets spread out on the floor for the detainees to sleep on) fell ill not long after. Then all of the prisoners in the ward were soon infected with the virus, as a result of the lack of disinfectants for the bathrooms that were being used by both the infected and non-infected alike, in addition to the presence of a large group of people packed inside a tiny 2 x 3 meter cell. Each inhabitant of the cell barely had an inch of  personal space for himself, so we could do nothing but let the infected ones sleep opposite the non-infected, but of course all of this was of no use due to the lack of space and ventilation.

After we were all infected with the virus, things became much more difficult. We had great difficulty filling the water, emptying the “bernica”, and preparing food. We had a strong sedative with us in the cell that we would take so that we could stand and do these things.

Fear of isolation in Tanta prison

Just several days before I contracted the disease, some of the other prisoners had already been infected with the virus. Their situation became increasingly difficult and some were transferred to isolation, which only offers one dirty blanket and prison food that barely qualifies as food, while the medical treatment they provide there consists of just an antibiotic. This caused all the prisoners to go into a state of terror and panic.

The quarantine was held in “Ward B”. One day, when it was about eleven in the evening, the light was suddenly turned off in “Ward A” — the ward that I was in. When I stood up to look through the slot in the door, I saw two young men in two wheelchairs being taken to a room at the end of the ward. So I told everyone with me in the cell, raising my voice so that everyone else in the ward could hear, to stop the entry of more infected prisoners, fearing further infection and the possibility that the conditions of the patients would deteriorate even further. Everyone in the ward began yelling and protesting until the prison’s chief of investigation came and took the two young men. We had requested that they be transferred to the hospital, but two days later we heard rumors that the two young men had died in “Ward B”.

All ward prisoners soon became infected due to the lack of disinfectants in the bathrooms being used by both the infected and non-infected, as well as the sheer number of people packed in tiny cells. Each person barely had an inch of personal space for himself

Hunger strike

Three days following the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic inside the prison, the majority of the prisoners decided to put an end to all this neglect, in the hope that treatment would be provided, or we would be allowed to go to a hospital outside the prison, due to the serious lack of resources to help overcome the crisis. So some of the prisoners began to go on hunger strike and refused their prison food rations. Soon after, everyone began to do the same thing, and they continued the strike for two whole weeks despite the fatigue that they were suffering from on a daily basis due to the lack of food. During the third week, the chief of investigation authorized the entry of some medicine, and we traded cigarettes for medicine. They would only become available two days after we’d request them, and during all this, family visits were suspended, so there was no way to ask for medicine or treatment from the outside.

Following an entire week of fatigue and exhaustion, the prison hospital was finally opened, and we were taken there for testing. The Covid cases that were confirmed positive but with a low threshold (‘a weak positive’) were placed in quarantine inside the prison hospital. Whereas the cases that required serious medical treatment were allowed to leave to a hospital outside.

I went through a bitter experience fighting a Covid infection in prison. During those days, I had lost all hope of surviving, but God had mercy on me, and I was finally able to make it through.

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