x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Egypt's prison chief fired over Islamist meetings

Interior minister removes the head of the country's prison authority amid reports he facilitated meetings between detained Islamists.

CAIRO // The interior minister removed the head of the country's prison authority yesterday amid reports he facilitated meetings between detained Islamists.

The decision was part of a limited reshuffle in the ministry in charge of security, which also resulted in security and investigative chiefs removed in the southern governorate of Minya, where unrest is rife and mobs have attacked government buildings and churches.

A security official said Mohammed Ibrahim, the interior minister, removed Mostafa Baz after reports emerged he had overlooked meetings in jail between Muslim Brotherhood leaders and other Islamists and allowed them to communicate outside the prisons.

Mr Baz had been in the job since June 10.

Explaining his decision, Mr Ibrahim told Egypt's state news agency the reshuffle was necessary to restore state security.

A day earlier, Egypt's interim president, Adly Mansour, said security was his government's top priority.

Asked about Mr Baz, Mr Ibrahim said: "Prisons are one of the most important police sectors and require strong leadership.

The removal was to correct the path and appoint a more qualified leadership."

Authorities accuse the Brotherhood of organising a campaign to destabilise Egypt and have intensified their crackdown on the group since the Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, was removed from power by the military on July 3.

Security officials estimate about 2,000 Brotherhood members have been detained in the clampdown since authorities broke up two pro-Morsi encampments in Cairo on August 14, leaving hundreds killed.

Mr Baz denied he facilitated meetings between the Brotherhood leadership. He said the media reports had referred to a communal prayer time involving several leaders of the group and other Islamists.

Mr Baz said police officers outnumbered the Islamists at the prayers to make it clear they were being watched.

"There were no meetings. They each dispersed and went to their cells," he said. He said the prayers brought together the Brotherhood's supreme leader, Mohammed Badie, and other senior figures held in the same prison in southern Cairo.

Mr Baz said he strictly followed prison regulations, dismissing reports that the leaders were allowed contact with the outside world, allegedly through mobile phones smuggled to the prison.

A report on Monday in the Al Masry Al Youm newspaper quoted prison officials as saying regulations had been relaxed and a Brotherhood member was allowed to lead prayers, instead of a designated preacher from the prison authority. The report also said that the Brotherhood detainees had been given extra free time together that could undermine the authorities' investigations.

The Brotherhood leaders that prayed together are being held in high security prisons.

Families of some of the detainees say they have been only allowed limited access to them. Others have complained of "inhumane conditions".

Aside from the Brotherhood detentions, at least 2,400 other people have been taken into custody since the bloody break-up of the sit-ins, a group of lawyers and activists said yesterday.

The Front to Defend Egypt's Protesters, which tracks detentions, said those in custody are held in about a dozen facilities. They face accusations ranging from membership in an armed group, attacking security and possession of weapons.

The new head of prison authorities, Mohammed Rateb, previously lead the ministry's internal investigation unit.

Meanwhile yesterday, Egypt's state-run MENA news agency reported that a police officer was killed and three conscripts wounded when gunmen opened fire at a checkpoint in a village in the southern Aswan governorate.