By Nourhan Dakroury
36 prisoners died due to suffocation during an attempt to flee a police van while en route to Abou Zaabal prison on Sunday, according to the Ministry of Interior (MOI).
MOI Spokesperson Hany Abdel Latif said the 759 prisoners, who were part of the Muslim Brotherhood, detained an officer and two others from the forces accompanying the vans. The officers were freed after sustaining severe injuries.
Abdel Latif said 36 prisoners died of suffocation, after police forces fired a tear gas canister into the van to free the detained officer and soldiers.
“What I’m sure of is that there aren’t any signs of bullets in the corpses,” said Osama Al-Mahdy, a human rights lawyer who went to the morgue to look at the bodies of the dead prisoners.
“It seems that the prisoners really died of suffocation since their faces are really blue,” Al-Mahdy said, adding that he was waiting on a forensic doctor to examine the bodies.
The pro-Mohamed Morsi National Coalition to Support Legitimacy announced in their press conference on Monday that the bodies had signs of torture, burns and bullets, demanding that an unbiased medical delegation be formed to examine the bodies.
The coalition demanded to hear testimony from the other detainees who survived the incident, adding that the prosecutor general does not allow any lawyers to meet with the prisoners.
The coalition also demanded that an independent international committee be “formed to investigate crimes against supporters of [former president Mohamed] Morsi.”
Fouada Watch and the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) also demanded an independent judicial investigation into the incident, the results of which are to be made public.
Fouada Watch said in a statement released on Monday that the investigations should also be conducted with the help of non-governmental organisations, to insure that investigations are unbiased and transparent.
Amr Moussa, a former presidential candidate and former secretary general of the Arab League, echoed the EOHR’s demand for independent investigations, describing the incident as a “tragedy”.
The Brotherhood released a statement on Monday condemning the incident and blaming the MOI for the deaths of the prisoners.
The statement read: “Notwithstanding the contradictory claims by the Ministry of the Interior, once saying they choked on teargas, and then alleging they were shot dead, those citizens were, in any event, the responsibility of the Interior Ministry, which decided to betray its trust and ignore its role, and executed them for their opposition to the bloody military council.”
Al-Nour Party Chairman Younes Makhioun also blamed the MOI for the deaths, saying: “there are no justifications for killing all those people all at once since they were definitely unarmed.”
The Brotherhood described the death of the prisoners as a “heinous crime” while accusing the ministry of disregarding people’s right to live.
The statement concluded with a call on all human rights organisations in Egypt and abroad to stand by the Egyptian people.
Mohamed Adel, an activist at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, said in his statement on Monday that the death of the 36 prisoners is to be blamed on interim president Adly Mansour and Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi and his government since they dealt with the current political crisis through the security apparatus.
Adel also blamed the Brotherhood for refusing dialogue or any other political solution, calling on all political factions to come together and reach a political solution to prevent further bloodshed.