Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971

Prisons

Striking for Dignity and Freedom

Amahl Bishara 05.5.2017
More than 1,500 Palestinian political prisoners began a hunger strike on April 17 for better conditions inside Israeli jails. Their demands include access to education, proper medical care and an end to the practice of solitary confinement. They are striking to make...

On January 25, 2014, Karim Taha and Muhammad Sharif organized separate marches about five miles apart in Cairo to commemorate the third anniversary of the uprising that toppled Husni Mubarak. Both demonstrations were quashed, and the two men met up to share a cab home. The driver took a detour that led them straight into a police checkpoint. They were both arrested and interrogated at a police station. The next day, they were transported to an unofficial prison at a military camp near one of Cairo’s satellite cities.

On December 2, 2013, Mahienour al-Massry organized a protest on the corniche running along the Mediterranean seafront in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city. The human rights attorney’s raven ponytail and oversized black glasses made her easy to spot amid the dozens of people with their backs turned to the sea and their eyes trained on the courthouse across the busy roadway. Inside the building, two police officers were appealing their conviction for the brutal killing of Khalid Sa‘id in 2010, one of the incidents that galvanized the 2011 uprising that brought down President Husni Mubarak. The protesters shouted: “Down with every agent of the military!”

Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantánamo Diary is a powerful indictment of the cruel regime of torture at the heart of darkness that is the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay.

I.

I sometimes refer to my college years in Saudi Arabia as “doing time.” But early in those years I did some time that almost did me in—and my mother, too.

I had spent high school in Bahrain as a boarder. My father pressured me to attend university near our house in Dhahran, where he worked as a contractor on the US military base.

In seventeenth-century Morocco, the scholar Abu ‘Ali al-Hasan Ibn Mas‘ud al-Yusi admonished the reigning Sultan Mawlay Isma‘il in writing. His much quoted letter, the “short epistle” or al-risala al-sughra, instructed the ruler to avoid injustice and oppression. Mawlay Isma‘il was second in line as sultan following the establishment in 1664 of the ‘Alawi dynasty, whose descendants Hassan II (1961-1999) and his son Mohammed VI (1999- ) have ruled as kings of Morocco.

In the shadow of the Israeli separation wall, and on the bucolic campus of al-Quds University in Abu Dis, a suburb of East Jerusalem, sits a museum dedicated to Palestinian prisoners of Israel. The Abu Jihad Museum for the Prisoners’ Movement is named after the Palestinian political prisoner and martyr, Khalil al-Wazir or Abu Jihad, who gained notoriety as a leader of the first intifada and an advocate for prisoners’ rights. Al-Wazir was assassinated by Israel in Tunisia in 1988.

Since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, around three quarters of a million Palestinians have been arrested, sometimes for actions taken against Israeli soldiers or civilians, but at other times for association with others or for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the early days of the occupation, thousands of Palestinians were rounded up, many serving sentences of ten years or more.

Aida Seif al-Dawla is a psychiatrist whose fight for citizens’ rights and dignity in Egypt has taken many forms since her days as a student activist in the 1970s. In 1993, she founded the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, of which she remains executive director. Lina Attalah, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Mada Masr, spoke with Seif al-Dawla in early April 2015 about the prevalence of torture in Egypt and the latest state attempts to restrict the activities of non-governmental organizations.

From the Editors (Summer 2015)

No publication based in Washington should write about prisons without first noting that America leads the world in incarceration.

Matariyya, Egypt’s New Theater of Dissent

Amira Howeidy 06.4.2015

On June 6, two police officers will stand trial for torturing Karim Hamdi, a 27 year-old lawyer, to death on a cold February evening inside the Matariyya police station in eastern metropolitan Cairo. The identities of the officers are protected by a gag order, but the widely publicized images of their victim’s bruised and battered corpse have put the police station and its restive environs in the national spotlight.

Three Updates on Palestinian Political Prisoners

Amahl Bishara 04.7.2014

Update 1 on prisoners and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from the halls of the State Department: Last week, the United States considered releasing Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of espionage on behalf of Israel, in exchange for Israel doing, as political analyst Yousef Munayyer put it, “several things it already should have done long ago,” including releasing both short- and long-term Palestinian prisoners. The media attention to the Pollard case is just another distraction from the wider issue of Palestinian political prisoners, whose incarceration affects thousands of families every day.

From the Editors (March/April 1984)

The war between Iran and Iraq has entered its most gruesome phase. Iran has stepped up its “human wave” attacks, sending tens of thousands of new recruits, including many young boys, to face entrenched Iraqi gun positions or to serve as human mine detonators. Tehran, with some evidence, accuses the Iraqi high command of using chemical weapons, including mustard gas, to turn back the Iranian attacks. Iraq’s deputy foreign minister, in Washington in mid-March, weakly responded to these charges by pointing to US use of chemical weapons, such as napalm and Agent Orange, in Indochina, and the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as if to say that Iraq was entitled to some quota of war crimes.

The Prisoners of Israel

The Israeli Defense Forces have taken some 9,000 to 10,000 Palestinians and Lebanese prisoner in south Lebanon. Because the Israelis have not released lists of names or figures, the exact number of prisoners currently held cannot be determined. The IDF itself has released its estimate of 7,000 to 9,000 detainees. [1] Correspondents in the area thought that the al-Ansar prison camp constructed by the Israelis near Nabatiyya in south Lebanon housed anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000 prisoners in mid-July. Although 600 detainees were released in the first week of July, and 212 children were released to the International Committee of the Red Cross on July 18, new detainees continue to arrive at the camp — some 400 on July 18, for instance.

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