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Fears for jailed Akashas’ health as Covid-19 kills prisoners

Tuesday May 26 2020
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Baktash Akasha and Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla during a court appearance in 2015. The two brothers are serving long prison sentences in the the United States for drugs offences. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By KEVIN J. KELLEY

NEW YORK

Convicted drug traffickers Baktash and Ibrahim Akasha are serving long sentences in US prisons hit by outbreaks of the coronavirus.

A total of 59 inmates of US federal prisons are reported to have died from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Another 1,735 federal inmates and 191 federal prison staff members have tested positive for the virus.
The Akasha brothers' own current health status is unknown, although Baktash is said to suffer physical conditions that increase susceptibility to the virus.
The US Bureau of Prisons has banned all visits to federal inmates due to the pandemic. And neither prison authorities nor attorneys for the Akashas are providing information on the brothers' medical status.

SUFFERS FROM OBESITY

Baktash is incarcerated in a correctional complex in the state of Louisiana where eight prisoners have died from the virus. Ibrahim is housed in a detention centre in the New York City borough of Brooklyn that has recorded no inmate deaths or current infections, but reports that five inmates at the facility have recovered from cases of Covid-19.

“We do not comment on the conditions of confinement for any specific inmate,” US Bureau of Prisons spokesman Emery Nelson said on Thursday in response to a Nation query regarding the Akashas' health.

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George Goltzer, a New York attorney who has represented Baktash Akasha, wrote in an email on Thursday: “I have no further comments on the case or his status in prison.”

Bernard Alan Seidler, a New York attorney representing Ibrahim Akasha, said by telephone on Friday that he has not spoken with his client since March 1 and has no information on Ibrahim's current condition.

Attorney Goltzer stated in court last year that Baktash, 43, suffers from obesity, asthma and diabetes. These conditions make him particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Ibrahim Akasha, 30, has received counselling for depression, Dawn Cardi, his attorney at the time, told a US judge earlier this year.

The Bureau of Prisons lists Baktash's release date as May 21, 2038, while Ibrahim is scheduled to be let go on September 5, 2036.

The brothers pleaded guilty last year to multiple felony charges involving a conspiracy to smuggle heroin and methamphetamines into the United States.

TESTED POSITIVE

Most of the 137,500 inmates of US federal prisons have been largely confined to their cells since the onset of the pandemic in March in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus.

But authorities at the Louisiana facility where Baktash is serving his sentence have failed to isolate several inmates who tested positive for the virus, according to the labour union representing prison officers at the state's Oakdale Federal Correctional Complex.

The Oakdale prison consists of two main institutions. Oakdale I, with 986 inmates, has recorded seven prisoner deaths and 188 infections among prisoners and staff. Oakdale II, the part of the complex where Baktash is confined, has reported one death and six recoveries from the virus among its 795 inmates.

Ibrahim Akasha is one of 1598 inmates at the Metropolitan Detention Centre (MDC) in Brooklyn. Although none of them are known to have died from the virus, a former chief medical officer for New York City jails charged after a visit to the MDC that it is “ill-equipped to identify cases of Covid-19 within its population.”

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