Al-Hadra Prison is located within a residential neighborhood at “Muharram Bey” district in Alexandria, a very densely populated urban area, which gives the prison a special nature unlike Egypt’s other prisons which are usually located in places far from the urban area. The prison’s sidewalks are often crowded with street vendors selling local street food and drinks especially to the families of prisoners coming to visit their relatives.
What’s even more unusual about this prison is that the residents of the houses that overlook the prison rent their windows and balconies on an hourly basis to the prisoners’ families who want to have more than the time they get during their prison visitation to see their relatives and make sure that they are fine, giving them an opportunity to speak more freely with their detained relatives.
Its establishment and capacity:
Al-Hadra Prison was established in the early twentieth century, when Egypt was under the British occupation. The prison can hold up to 1,800 inmates, both criminal and political prisoners. (1) It consists of 3 wards and each ward is composed of 3 floors, the first two have 20 small cells and the third floor involves fewer cells albeit larger.
The prison’s type:
Al-Hadra Prison is a public prison that involves both criminal and political prisoners.
It also receives pretrial detainees who are held pending trial in addition to those convicted over slight prison sentences, especially after the opening of a number of prisons in Alexandria such as Borg Al Arab Prison.
Examples of the prison’s inmates:
– One of the most famous inmates of Al-Hadra Prison is: novelist and critic Latifa Al-Zayyat, who had been held in solitary confinement for months on a charge of joining a communist group to topple down the regime in the late 1940s. (2) Another prominent inmate is: the leader of the Communist Democratic Movement for National Liberation (HADETU) Shuhdi Attiya Al-Shafei, who remained incarcerated in this prison during the period of his military trial. As for modern-day inmates, the Egyptian Football Association former board member Hazem Al-Hawari is an example. (3)
Violations within Al-Hadra Prison:
Al-Hadra Prison has a long history of violations that took place within its walls from the first decades of the last century to the present day. This prison witnessed the death of Syrian lawyer Maroun Anton, the first secretary of the Egyptian Communist Party, who died following a hunger strike that lasted for several weeks to protest the ill-treatment and abuses that he and his co-prisoners had endured at the hands of the prison’s authorities. (4) It has been decades since this incident took place; however, the method of dealing with prisoners in the Al-Hadra Prison has not changed. After nearly a century, 236 inmates inside the prison staged a hunger strike for the same reasons that led the Communist Party members to go on their hunger strike several years ago. (5)
– Violations within Al-Hadra Prison have continued after the January 2011 revolution to target criminal inmates as well. In his testimony about torture and ill-treatment suffered by the prison’s inmates, writer Omar Hazek recounts stories of torture he saw from the slot in his cell door after he heard a criminal prisoner begging an officer to forgive him while a group of guards were competing with one another kicking him with their feet and beating him with sticks. (6)
– Violations and abuses within Al-Hadra Prison are not limited to direct physical harm or torture, but rather they went beyond to include every single moment of the inmates’ lives in prison which has become like hell on earth. For example, a prisoner’s testimony about the spread of skin diseases such as allergy and scabies in the Al-Hadra Prison- as a result of health negligence, neglect of hygiene, and closures of toilets (7) – corroborates one of the Prosecution’s inspection reports on the conditions of the prison. (8)
Al-Hadra…The prison of famous executions:
– Al- Hadra Prison witnessed the first execution of a woman in Egypt. Within its walls, a death sentence was passed against the most famous gang in the history of crime in Egypt: the gang of sisters Raya and Sakina, who were executed along with their husbands and others, for killing 17 women and burying their bodies under the floor of the two sisters’ houses. Among the narratives constructed regarding the gang’s execution was the one by the prison doctor, quoting Raya as saying, a few moments before her execution (in front of the gallows): “Oh Badia’ my daughter. I bid you farewell, trusting in God to protect you”, while Sakina said “I am a brave woman and will be executed like brave men. I killed 17 people and deceived the police”. He added: Hassballah, Raya’s husband, said while hearing the handing down of the judgment “You are saying I killed 17 people. But I only killed 15. In fact, I can count them one by one and even name them all. If I lived one more year, I would have killed all the whores and stopped them from roaming the streets. These women are nothing but prostitutes who cheated on their husbands and sell their honor for a quarter of a Riyal (very little money). You hang us because of some prostitutes!. He went on saying while addressing the executioner “Do your job well and tie and tighten as you see fit, it is all death”. While Abdel-Aal, Sakina’s husband, said when he heard the pronouncement of the death sentence” Come on. I only killed 7 not 17″ and proceeded addressing the executioner “Go on, tie me up and get the job done”. (9)
– The Hadra Prison is also known for being the first prison that carried out the worst executions that took place after the liberation of Egypt from the British occupation in 1952; such as: the execution of the famous two workers Mustafa Khamis and Muhammad Al-Baqri, in an unjust case which the July 1952 regime used to consolidate its anti-freedom rule. The two were executed after a military trial that lasted only a few weeks in September 1952, only two months after the July Movement seized power in Egypt.
From the detainees’ messages that came out from the Al-Hadhra prison’s walls:
Omar Hazek’s message which was written in February 2014. The following is part of it “My brothers in freedom and in the love of this country that is rising and tottering, rising with us and getting kicked by their feet, I want to tell you; I asked myself a lot when I had the first verdict: what does it mean that I protest against beating a protestor and then get such a sentence? The truth is that I’m totally isolated in prison, I didn’t know about the beautiful solidarity with me except lately”. (10)
Furthermore, Sherif Farag sent from his cell in Al-Hadra prison a message saying: “This is how the 100th day passes; I don’t know yet why I’m here! There isn’t a single piece of evidence that I killed 34 people, or that I am implicated in a bank robbery or incitement to murder, not to mention the many other accusations pressed against me which exceeded 14 in a single case. I am extremely dangerous that I am involved in two cases not only one, two cases with the same charges on two different days: the day before my engagement and the day after! “. (11)
1- “Al-Shorouk” newspaper, publishing date: April 11, 2015 – Last accessed on December 22, 2020
2- “Al-Shorouk” newspaper, a news report entitled “On International Women’s Day … Latifa Al-Zayyat, the novelist and fighter for women,” publishing date: March 2020 – Last accessed on June 2020
3- “Al-Fagr” news website, a new report entitled “The Security Directorate in Alexandria transfers Hazem Al-Hawary to Al-Hadra Prison” – Publication date: April 2017 – last accessed on June 2020
4- “Al Hewar Al Motamaden” website, “Antoun Maroun… The first martyr of the ancient Egyptian Communist Party (1924)”, Publication date: August 2018 – Last accessed on: June 2020
5- “Al-Mal” website, “25 Nubian detainees joined the empty gut battle”, publication date: November 2017 – last accessed on: June 2020
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6- “Al-Masry Al-Youm” newspaper, “Why do prisoners die in Egyptian prisons?” – Publication date October 2015 – Accessed on June 2020 https://www.almasryalyoum.com/news/details/826474
7- “Al-Shorouk” newspaper, “To the Minister of Interior, we are subjected to torture in Al-Hadhra prison in Alexandria” – published on: December 2015 – last accessed on: June 2020 https://www.shorouknews.com/news/view.aspx?cdate=16122015&id=0ef138ab-c7e6-496a-bac4-ff1e334e17ba
8- “Al-Masry Al-Youm”, “The Prosecution: Al-Hadra prison suffers from poor hygiene … and water cuts in the upper floors ” – published on: April 2014 – last accessed on: June 2020
9- “Al-Dostour” newspaper, “The last words Raya and Sakina said before their execution” – Publication date August 2019- last accessed on: June 2020 https://www.dostor.org/2789159
10- “AnNahar”: Poet Omar Hadik writes from inside prison – published on: February 2014 – last accessed on: June 2020 https://www.alnaharegypt.com/187726
11- “Al-Masry Al-Youm”: “Prisoner Sherif Farag .. Creativity defeats the cell” – Publication date: April 2014 – Accessed on: June 2020 https://www.almasryalyoum.com/news/details/437713