Egypt: Brotherhood leader “Mahmoud Ezzat” decries prison conditions during a court hearing

Dr. Mahmoud Ezzat, 77, says he has not been allowed to leave his solitary cell for 16 months, and that he has not been able to meet his lawyers or family.

Dr. Mahmoud Ezzat, the former acting leader of Egypt’s largest and most popular opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, slammed his detention conditions in a rare court appearance that was shared widely in an online video a few days ago.

The 77-year-old former Brotherhood leader, Mahmoud Ezzat, who is also a professor of epidemiology, was arrested in August last year after seven years of speculation about his whereabouts.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which has been Egypt’s largest opposition movement for decades, has been outlawed by the government of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since 2014 after he led a coup against late President Mohamed Morsi.

The group has denounced the court cases against Ezzat as “politically motivated”.

In his latest court appearance shared in a widely circulated video, Ezzat complained to the judge about the circumstances of his detention, as he is held in a solitary confinement cell at the notorious Aqrab (Scorpion) Prison.

He said that throughout the 16 months of his detention, “the cell is only opened for a few seconds every day to deliver my food” and that “some food is thrown to me from the door vent, without bothering to even open the cell’s door to hand the food to me.”

He added that he is not allowed to move outside his cell, or to “smell fresh air except within the walls of the cell”.

“I have been blindfolded all the way from the prison to this court room today,” he told the judge.

Ezzat added that, prior to the trial, he hadn’t been able to read the indictment sheet or listen to the prosecution hearing, and that he hasn’t met his lawyers or been able to know who they are.

“I haven’t met lawyers, and haven’t had a chance to tell them what I want to say so they would tell the court,” he said in the video that went viral.

About 10 days ago, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of “espionage” with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement that is ruling the besieged Gaza Strip. This is in addition to having already been sentenced to life in prison in April.

The short clip has triggered widespread condemnation by Egyptian and Arab human rights advocates and journalists.

Gamal Sultan, a journalist, wrote that the video is “enough to expose all the cheap lies promoted by the Egyptian media about the ‘virtues’ of prisons in the ‘Happy Era.’ What Ezzat said was a disgrace to the systems of justice, security and media in the country.”

Siba Madwar, a news anchor, tweeted: “What sort of disgrace glorifies a regime that has kept a man of this age in solitary confinement for a year and a half, and glorifies this judge, who does not seem to be moved by his complaints or the misery of his conditions? Where did they get all this cruelty and who taught them all this brutality?”

Several Brotherhood leaders have died in custody in recent years, including the late president Mohamed Morsi and former MP Essam El-Erian. Rights groups have said their deaths were most likely due to medical negligence and poor conditions in jails.

Sisi ousted his democratically elected predecessor Morsi in July 2013. Since then, the former army general has led a crackdown on Brotherhood leaders and supporters, as well as on secular opposition groups that criticise his rule.

Human Rights Watch has estimated that more than 60,000 political prisoners have been languishing in jails since Sisi became president in 2014, while many others have been living in self-imposed exile fearing reprisals at home.

Despite these large numbers of political prisoners in Egypt, Sisi has repeatedly denied that the country has any political prisoners, and consistently justifies his crackdown as part of his “fight against terrorism”.