An estimated 600 minors are being held in a detention camp in the town of Banha, North of Cairo, according to the Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.
The camp is run by the Central Security Forces, a paramilitary branch of the Egyptian police that is usually responsible for protests, riots, and embassy security.
Lawyer Halim Heneish from the Nadeem Center said that, through their work, they estimate 600 children are being held on charges of joining terrorist organisations, protesting, assaulting security forces and blocking roads; all charges on political grounds.
Heneish is currently working with four families whose children are detained at the ‘Central Security Camp’. Despite Egyptian law stipulating that judicial procedures should be prompt for minors, families working with Heneish have said that their children have been held without trial for eight months.
The centre believes that many in the facility are being denied required medical support for injuries and other conditions, though the exact situation inside the camp is unclear, as contact has been denied by the camp’s authorities.
Most of the children are from Cairo and the Nile Delta area and, while they have been assigned lawyers, Heneish believes there is very little engagement between the lawyers and the children, meeting only when their cases reach court.
The Nadeem Center has submitted a legal complaint to the Ministry of Justice on the grounds that families have been denied contact with the children since the time of their arrests. The four families are from the low-income neighbourhood of Shubra in North Cairo, a district that has seen many protests and disturbances in recent years. However, the exact circumstances of their children’s arrests are unclear.
Heneish is working towards providing support for 20 other families who he has established contact with.
However, Hany Abdel-Latif, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior, denied the existence of the facility in a phone call. “This [Banha] centre does not exist. We do not detain minors in prisons. All arrested people under 18 [years-old] are held in juvenile centres in accordance with the law.”
Abdel-Latif refused to entertain the idea that such a camp could be established.
Article 80 of the Egyptian Constitution, which was ratified via a popular referendum in January 2014, stipulates that children “shall be provided with legal assistance and detained in appropriate locations separate from those allocated for the detention of adults”.
According to Heniesh, after the 25 January Revolution, the government opened numerous informal detention centres, accommodating large numbers of detainees outside of prisons. However, whilst legal grounds permit the government to establish temporary, informal detention centres, the detainees in Banha are being held long-term. Indeed, as per Abdel-Latif’s comments, the minors should legally be held in juvenile centres, rather than solely Ministry of Interior-policed centres.
Mohamed Hafez, an Alexandrian-based lawyer working with the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and on legal cases concerning minors, said that he had heard about the Central Security Camp in Banha. He confirmed that these types of detention facilities are illegal and unconstitutional: “When children are held wrongly in cases like this and we confront the Ministry of Interior, they usually respond that they do not have space in the appropriate centres.”
Since the 25 January Revolution, the numbers of arrested minors has spiked dramatically.
In November, an Alexandrian juvenile misdemeanour court sentenced 78 minors to between two to five years in prison, according to Freedom for the Brave, an initiative that provides support for detainees. The minors are accused of being members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and of participating in unauthorised protests; a common set of charges that are placed on young detainees.
The children were able to release a statement, which stated they had been exposed to a number of violations, including the beating of any prisoner who went on hunger strike.
The statement added that children have been treated worse after they first reported violations to media and to international rights organisations.
A month before, Human Rights Monitor documented the case of hunger-striking 13 year-old Mohamed Abdel-Latif. Through his hunger strike, Abdel-Latif was protesting his unlawful detention, torture, and ill-treatment inside detention.
Security forces arrested Mohamed Abdel-Latif, along with a group of other students his age, on 14 August, 2014, as he was going to his evening class in Damanhour, HRM stated. He was arrested without a reason or warrant. Whilst being held at the prison’s security camp, police beat Mohamed Abdel-Latif up with police batons and spent most of his detention in an adult criminal cell.
He was charged with blocking roads and railways, being affiliating with a banned group, and burning tires.
During the last year and a half at least 1,000 minors have been detained in Egypt’s prisons according to human rights group “Free the Children”. The group claims that minors as young as 11 years old are often arrested randomly during clashes between protestors and police.