On June 21, 1999 Mr. Jacques Blumenzweit contacted me by telephone for the first time, the conversation was recorded with his consent and his name is used here with his consent. The conversation was conducted in english, french and arabic. Mr. J. Blumenzweit one of the 350 prisoners at AbuZaabal recounted the entire episode of his imprisonment with many details, he mentioned names, events, torture, and atrocities committed by the guards against the prisoners.
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Abu-Za’abal is a complex of prisons located about an hour’s drive from Cairo on the Port Said road, past Heliopolis and about 10 miles from Ismailia. The prison buildings are modern, having been rebuilt after being bombed in 1956. There are separate buildings for common law prisoners; a so called Internment Camp building for prisoners awaiting trial; and a House of Correction, a three story building, used for political prisoners of various kinds.
The Jewish prisoners are on the third, top floor of the House of Correction, in cells Nos. 20-24 inclusive. There is no mixing or contact between the Jews and other prisoners. The cells now occupied by the Jews were, prior to June 1967, apparently occupied by Moslem Brothers, moved to cells on the floors below. Since these have been in Jail for many years, some of them apparently are used as "trusties," and Jewish prisoners did come into contact with these trusties.
Each cell of the five holding Jews measures approximately 7 yards by 11, and is about 3 1/2 yards high. The cells are completely bare of any furniture or accommodations whatsoever. Into each cell are packed 70-75 Jews. Prisoners must sleep on the floor. They are so jammed for space that they lie down in four rows, those in the first and third rows all having their heads in one direction, those in the second and fourth rows in the other, so that those in one row can cross feet with those in another while sleeping. Otherwise they simply could not fit. To have a seat on the floor with one's back to the wall during the day is considered a luxury. The attempt is made by the prisoners to give older and sick people a little more room when possible, meaning further squeezing for the others.
When the Jewish prisoners arrived, the cells were caked with dirt. The prisoners attempted to clean this off as best they could, but had nothing to do this with for several weeks. Later, after they could go down for exercise into the courtyard, some brought back stones to try and scour the dirt off the floor. By this time, too, some had soap.
Physical Condition of Prisoners
A number of the prisoners are reported to be very sick and to require medical treatment. Some are quite old, others elderly, and the effect on them of the conditions under which they live can easily be imagined. Still others are reported to be in a deeply distressed mental condition. Many prisoners who were sick simply did not dare to make their maladies known in the first weeks of detention, fearing to call attention to themselves at this time, when treatment of the prisoners was particularly severe.
One young man who was released may have been released for medical reasons. He was a partially paralyzed, a hunchback, severely cuffed about and beaten in the first week of June in prison because he was unable to move, who ran a very high fever for several nights. In the case of one other person, too, perhaps, poor health might have been a contributing factor in his release. This second person has had two nervous breakdowns since being expelled from Egypt, and presently is in a hospital in Switzerland. Others much more sick, though, have not been released.
No Communications with the Outside
No member of family, legal representative or representative of any foreign Government has been permitted to visit any Jewish prisoner in AbuZa'abal prison.
President Gonard, of the International Red Cross, who went to Egypt in July, received a promise that Red Cross representatives would be able to visit the prison. (At about this time incidentally, prisoners were told one day to clean up themselves and their cells for inspection, and warned to say nothing but that they were being well treated. The inspection visit, however, never took place.) Despite attempts by the Red Cross representative to get into Abu-Za'abal, it was not until the end of August that, apparently, he was able to do so.
For well over a month, prisoners had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of what was going on outside. There is no radio; they are not permitted access to any newspapers. They are not allowed to receive mail. One prisoner's mother died. His wife had a child. As, of the end of July he did not know this, and still may not. None of the Red Cross form letters sent by relatives outside the prison reached them. Nor were they given any Red Cross forms to send out.
III-Treatment by Prison Officers
There has been both mass and individual ill-treatment of the prisoners. Such treatment was worst during the first month, easing up later.
On arrival at Abu-Za'abal prison, in June, groups of prisoners coming from the different police stations of Cairo and the group from Alexandria were all forced to kneel down and put their elbows on the floor. Prison officers and trusties then jumped up and down on their backs, kicked them, beat them with canes and batons.
Sometimes a gauntlet was formed, and prisoners had to crawl along while being beaten.
Some groups, in addition, were forced to run around the prison courtyard, in a circle, with officers and trusties stationed at various points and whipping them with leather straps as they passed.
Prisoners, on being registered, were asked for their names. They replied in normal, Western fashion and were beaten for it with canes. Egyptian fashion is different. How they should answer was never explained, and beating continued until the prisoner figured it out for himself One prisoner who put his hands on the table while being registered was beaten with particular severity.
On a number of occasions individual prisoners supposed to have committed a fault were taken out of the cell and lashed with palm fronds, often slightly wet, so as to draw blood. Twenty or thirty lashes were not uncommon.
One man was forced down on hands and knees in such fashion that the officer could cane the soles of his feet, and was seriously injured.
As punishment for having manufactured playing cards for themselves, from such scraps as came to hand, one group of five younger men were ordered to stand up with their backs against the cell door. The officer then passed a stick through the bars, put it into the mouth of the prisoners, held each end with a hand, then pulled back, forcing the prisoner's head back against the bars. It was this treatment that was on the way to strangling one of the five men being punished, when an older prison officer intervened.
Two instances of unnatural acts have been reported by one source:
Introduction of a foreign object into the anus of one prisoner.
The attempt was made to force one young man to commit a perverted act upon his brother, in front of their father, and he was beaten unconscious upon refusal.
Prisoners released are warned not to say anything to anyone about conditions in the prison, or of the treatment meted out there.
None of the prisoners has been charged with any crime, or informed of any kind of charge against him. Nor have the relatives been so informed.