The number of Muslim Brotherhood detainees killed on Sunday has risen to thirty-seven, the state-run Middle East New Agency reported Monday. The victims were allegedly killed when they tried to escape from a truck transferring them to a prison facility.
MENA also reported that interim Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi contacted the ministers of justice and interior on Monday afternoon to discuss the incident.
On Monday, protesters gathered in front of the Zeinhom morgue where the bodies of the slain detainees had been transported. A Mada Masr journalist reported that unknown assailants chanting against the Brotherhood attacked journalists there. Most reporters had to be evacuated from the area.
The circumstances surrounding the deaths have been called into question.
The state-run Middle East News Agency reported that 612 inmates who were in the convoy to the Abu Zaabal prison facility in Qalyubia attempted to escape from custody. The truck was reportedly attacked by an armed group. The Ministry of Interior alleged that the victims died of suffocation after police fired tear gas to halt their escape attempt, and to liberate an officer who had allegedly been taken hostage inside the truck by the detainees.
Similarly, on Monday afternoon the Cabinet released a statement saying that the violence occurred when armed men tried to release the prisoners as they were being transported to prison from a Heliopolis police station.
But in its narrative of events, the Muslim Brotherhood alleged that more than two hundred people were killed in the incident, and that there had been no attempt by the prisoners to escape. Citing an anonymous lawyer, the official news site of the Freedom and Justice Party—the Brotherhood`s political arm— claimed that there was no transfer of prisoners scheduled for the time of the incident. Prison sources alleged that on Sunday afternoon, several Muslim Brotherhood detainees were abruptly transferred from their shared cell to another cell, suggesting that they were going to be assassinated, the website claimed.
In a presser at the Doctors Syndicate, Mostafa Azab—coordinator of the Front for the Defense of the Detainees of the Coup—explained that security forces have given their lawyers different scenarios about what happened. Once, lawyers were told that prisoners detained in Abu Zaabal prison tried to escape and security forces fired tear gas at them to abort their attempt; however, the head of the prison denied there was any jailbreak attempt, Azab claimed. Other security sources allegedly told the lawyers that seven hundred prisoners were being transferred to Abu Zaabal prison and police fired tear gas when they tried to escape, killing thirty-six people. However, police stations contacted by the front`s lawyers said there were no transfers arranged from any police station to the prison at that time.
Azab added that families of the deceased inmates found evidence of torture on the corpses of their relatives, and claimed that the morgue authorities were refusing to issue death certificates unless they agreed to sign a statement citing suffocation as the cause of death.
Access to other detainees is completely blocked, Azab added.
Younis Makhyoun, head of the hardline Islamist Salafi Nour Party, condemned the Ministry of Interior for its role in the incident in a statement published on his Facebook page early Monday evening, writing: “We hold the Ministry of Interior fully responsible for the killing of thirty-seven Brotherhood inmates in Abu Zaabal prison.”
“It is ... known that the security and safety of any inmate is the responsibility of the institution imprisoning them,” he continued. “That is why I urge authorities to form a fact-finding committee through a presidential decree, with consultation of all political forces, to investigate this incident and to release the results to the public opinion. I also demand allowing human rights organizations to visit the detainees to investigate their cases, in accordance with the Constitution and the international declarations of human rights that grant the right to proper treatment to inmates.”
Over one thousand people across the country have died in clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters, civilians and police and Armed Forces since 14 August, when security forces started dispersing the two main sit-ins in Cairo that were calling for the reinstatement of deposed President Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader.
Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been detained in the ensuing violence, while Brotherhood leaders are facing charges of inciting chaos and instability.
[This article originally appeared on Mada Masr.]