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Egyptians are left in the dark about secret abduction cases

Since May, the hashtag #Al-Ikhtifa_al-Qasri_Garima (#Forced_Disappearance_Is_A_Crime) has been filling social media pages, and blogs are documenting forced disappearance and arrests of young adults as part of security campaigns that started in May in Cairo and in other governorates. Over three months have passed without knowing the detention place or details about the victims.  

Although the Egyptian police deny any arrest campaign, activists say the arrests are a bid to prevent protests and generally occur before important events, such as the anniversary of the June 30 Revolution or the inauguration of the new Suez Canal.

Islam Khalil disappeared more than 80 days ago, and his parents’ attempts to get any information about his detention place failed. A police unit arrested him with his brother and father on May 24 at dawn from their house in Gharbia governorate. The father and brother were released two weeks later as there were no accusations and the police did not refer their case to the judiciary. Khalil’s fate remains unknown.

Regarding the search for his brother, Nour Khalil told Al-Monitor, “We have so far submitted four reports to the public prosecutor and sent dozens of letters to Minister of Justice Ahmed el-Zend and Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar. But we haven’t received any responses, after having searched all the detention places in Gharbia and after the [Egyptian Interior Ministry] Prison Service asserted that Islam is not in any of its detention centers.”

Nour added, “Islam is illegally detained without any accusation, and he does not even have the right to appear before an investigation in the attendance of his lawyers, as is his and every Egyptian’s right according to the constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedure.” He described his brother’s abduction as “illegal.”

Nour assumes that “Islam’s disappearance is due to the intense torture he has endured.” Refraining from disclosing his whereabouts aims at hiding this crime. He might have even died and been buried without his family knowing.

“It is like we are waiting for Islam Atito’s fate,” he added.

On May 19, Islam Atito, who was a student at the Faculty of Engineering of Ain Shams University, was abducted after taking his exam and disappeared for a whole day. His body was found the next day, and it seemed that he was shot in a desert region, east of Cairo. His family asserted that there were clear torture marks on his body. That was the first case of murder after a forced disappearance.

The Interior Ministry said in a press release that Atito was a member of a terrorist group, and he was killed during a fight with the police in the desert in east Cairo. But Atito’s friends said that Atito attended his exam and was kidnapped after it.

The wave of security raids and forced displacement significantly increased in the wake of the second anniversary of the June 30, 2013, incidents and the ousting of pro-Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Morsi.

On the third anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, and in light of the growing number of arrests of students and activists who have not committed any crime, a group of political activists launched the Al-Horriya lil Gedaan initiative. It compiled a database documenting 163 forced disappearance cases without investigation from different governorates from April until June 7. Among these cases, the whereabouts of 66 people were unknown, and the fate of 31 was unclear. Sixty-four people were found 24 hours after they were detained without investigation, which is against the constitution. Two people were killed after their disappearance.

Israa al-Tawil, Suhaib Saad and Omar Mohammad are three students and activists who were abducted without prior threats. They had dinner plans on Monday June 1 in Cornish el-Nile. Tawil appeared two weeks after her arrest in al-Qanater women’s prison in Qalyubia, while Saad appeared 20 days later in a video posted by the armed forces, in which he admitted to conducting terrorist acts. Mohammad is still in prison today.

While security sources denied any forced abduction incidents in statements published in Egyptian newspapers, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior did not issue any official statement to comment on these incidents reported by the victims’ parents.

Although the security apparatus remained silent and did not comment on the incidents, on June 6 several rights groups and political parties launched anti-forced disappearance campaigns to communicate with the abducted people’s parents and to pressure the state to reveal their whereabouts. It is noteworthy that Egypt refuses to sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons From Enforced Disappearance to this day.

The rights groups called for legal awareness through their campaign and demanded the state to take all necessary measures to protect the security of its citizens. On May 30, activists launched awareness campaigns to teach citizens how to deal with forced disappearance cases and how to report it to the public prosecution.

The Egyptian Journalist Syndicate (EJS) also intervened. The president of the EJS, Yahya Qalash, submitted a report to the public prosecutor on June 22 in which he condemned the Ministry of Interior for practicing forced disappearance against journalist Mohammad Saber al-Batawi who worked in the state-owned Akhbar al-Youm newspaper. Police members had kidnapped Batawi from his house in Tokh city June 17 on charges of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. This abduction violates the law of the syndicate, the constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedure, while the EJS considered it an escalation against journalists and a breach of the people’s right to know the truth.

Mokhtar Hamida, a lawyer at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression who handles dozens of forced disappearance cases, told Al-Monitor, “Most forced disappearance cases involved arresting the victims in their houses at dawn. They were often security campaigns related to incidents like the revolution’s anniversary.”

“Forced disappearance has become a systematic security method. Similar cases are classified under one big case and dubbed ‘cell,’ after the detainees are forced to admit to committing crimes,” Hamida said.

Regarding litigation procedures, Hamida explained, “Most forced disappearance cases are often referred to the Supreme State Security Court, which is the competent court in examining national security cases. In such incidences, stubbornness prevails, and we are not allowed to attend as lawyers and defend the people involved.”

“These developments are a result of the security measures aiming at widening the circle of suspects. There are hundreds of detained people who did not practice any political activities,” he said, adding, “It is hard to limit the number of detentions so far, especially with its increase in the past two months.”

The forced disappearance issue in Egypt stirs the anger of activists, rights workers and parents of detainees who are still searching for information that can reassure them that their children are alive or indicate to them their whereabouts. This is yet another case among the dozens of human rights-related cases in Egypt.

By Ayah Aman 

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