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Prisoners Shot and Killed During Egyptian Revolution; 23,000 Escape

Egyptian officials reported in January 2011 that thousands of prisoners clashed with guards and staged mass escapes during nationwide protests that were part of the revolutionary movement known as Arab Spring. The officials acknowledged that a number of prisoners were killed or wounded during the uprising.

Against a backdrop of looting and lawlessness that occurred in some Egyptian neighborhoods during the revolution, most of the escaped prisoners were able to evade capture after they broke out. According to news reports, almost a dozen Hizbollah and Hamas militants who were being held in Egyptian prisons escaped and returned to Gaza and Lebanon.

General Mohammed al-Batran, a prison official negotiating with prisoners who were demanding their release, was killed. Some news reports indicated he was shot by a prison guard.

Other Egyptian prison guards were accused of fatally shooting dozens of prisoners and a visitor at the al-Qatta al-Gadeed prison. Another 81 prisoners at that facility were injured.
The violence broke out after prison officials rejected prisoners’ requests to be set free, and continued into February 2011 after the uprising had ended.

“The authorities must stop the use of lethal force against inmates and allow all those injured to receive medical treatment immediately,” said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa office.

At the Abu Zaabal prison near Cairo, guards fired birdshot and used tear gas, then resorted to live rounds in an attempt to regain control. After the initial violence, prisoners were left with no food, limited water and inadequate medical care.

It was later reported that around 23,000 of Egypt’s 80,000 prisoners escaped during the national uprising, with estimates of at least 200 killed. About 11,000 were captured or later surrendered to authorities while the rest remain at large. Some prison guards abandoned their posts; in at least one case, armed men tried to facilitate an escape by ramming a prison gate with a bulldozer.

“Inside the prison, we pounded on the doors and no one came, no guards, so we figured that they had fled because they were being shot at from outside,” said Hassan Wishah, who escaped from the Abu Zaabal prison. “We took anything we could find, chairs and fire extinguishers, and broke the doors.”

The Egyptian revolution resulted in the ouster of that country’s leader, President Hosni Mubarak. Egypt’s former Interior Minister, Habib al-Adly, who was in charge of the nation’s prisons and police force, was placed in detention. A lawsuit has since been filed by the Egyptian Center for Development and Human Rights over the shootings of prisoners during the uprising.

Sources: Jerusalem Post, Associated Press,,,,, Los Angeles Times

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