Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1252, (25 June - 1 July 2015)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1252, (25 June - 1 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

‘Forcibly disappeared’

NGOs and political movements have been outspoken over a recent wave of what they characterise as the forced disappearance of youth activists. Ahmed Morsy reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

In the past couple of weeks human rights groups have decried what they say is the forced disappearance of dozens of people who have been reported missing in recent months.

One of the latest cases was reported on 1 June when Esraa Al-Tawil, a 23-year-old student and photojournalist, along with friends Suhaib Saad and Omar Mohamed, disappeared in Maadi during a night-time stroll. Their families and friends did not see or hear from them until 16 June when reports of Al-Tawil’s detention at Al-Qanater Prison for women surfaced on social media.

“A girl who saw her at Al-Qanater Prison called me to say she was wearing a black headscarf and a multi-coloured top, which was very close to what Esraa was wearing the night she disappeared. She wasn’t wearing white in the prison,” Al-Tawil’s sister Doaa said via social media on 16 June. Detainees who are awaiting an official investigation are required to wear white uniforms.

Doaa Al-Tawil wrote a Facebook post last week saying that police visited their house to deliver an official notice stating that her sister was in police custody.

According to Esraa’s lawyer Halim Henish, she went before state security prosecution on 17 June but was not under investigation. “There is no information as to what charges she is accused of or who is involved in the case along with her,” Henish said according to the Daily News website.

A fortnight ago, the National Council for Human Rights invited the families of those who had seemingly disappeared to report the cases. “They collected data on those who forcibly disappeared… their names, age and contact information,” Esraa’s sister said. “They said they will try to escalate action.”

Omar Gamal, a 20-year-old engineering student, disappeared on 2 June during a family outing. In a statement posted on social media, Gamal’s sister cited how her family was spending the evening at a Heliopolis Sporting Club when eight men in civilian clothes took her brother away in a microbus without identifying themselves.

His family members visited several police stations but found no trace of him. They sent a telegram to the prosecutor general and the interior minister lodging an account of the disappearance, but have received no response.

Ahmed Amin Suleiman, a 44-year-old employee of the US Embassy, has been missing since 26 May. Activists have circulated his story on social media platforms, describing how, on 25 May, government security forces visited Suleiman’s house but did not find him. The following day, he went missing and his wife received a call informing her that he had been arrested.

His wife has been unable to find out more information since then. Suleiman’s family filed a report on 1 June to the prosecutor general on the abduction.

Al-Tawil, Saad, Mohamed, Gamal and Suleiman are among a long list of young men and women who have gone missing in Egypt in recent weeks. Advocacy group Freedom for the Brave announced on 8 June that 163 people across the country had “disappeared or been detained without questioning” between April and the first week of June 2015.

According to Freedom for the Brave, a campaign launched in 2014 to press for the release of detained activists, there are 66 cases of “continuing forced disappearance”, meaning persons whose whereabouts are still unknown, although when and where they disappeared is known. In a statement on its Facebook page, the group also said that there are 31 more cases of “forced disappearance without follow-up”, meaning instances of forced disappearance of individuals from a certain place at a certain time, but that the group has not directly followed up or communicated with their relatives or acquaintances.

The group also listed 64 cases of “ended forced disappearance”, meaning missing persons who have been confirmed to have reappeared. In addition, the group documented two other cases of “forced disappearance and death” which means dead bodies of individuals who disappeared were found.

Al-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture records violations committed by the police during the first year of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s tenure. Its report said 119 cases were forced disappearance. In the reports released on 11 June, the centre described forced disappearance as “the abduction, arrest or detention” of individuals by security forces without facing prosecution, or being reached by their families or lawyers within 48 hours.

Some remain missing for weeks or months, Al-Nadeem centre said. “Others resurface in courts or prisons, or their bodies are [later] found in morgues or outdoors, accompanied by a message from the Interior Ministry accusing them of terrorism,” the report said.

Activists believe many cases were linked to a general disobedience call made by the activist 6 April youth movement on 11 June, and are an attempt to neutralise activism by the Ministry of Interior.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) has denounced the mounting arrests and condemned the abduction of activists by security bodies which take them to unknown locations – and which it said coincided with the calls for civil disobedience on 11 June.

According to ANHRI, the series of arbitrary arrests began by apprehending Ahmed Youssri Zaki, a freshman at the Faculty of Law. On 3 May Zaki was abducted from his home and no information about him has so far surfaced. Also, three Sultan brothers — Anas, Osama and Islam — were arrested on 26 May. They were considered cases of forced disappearance until they appeared before the prosecution on 30 May. The three were accused of joining a terrorist group, harming national unity and social peace, disturbing public security and order, disrupting production and citizens’ interests, and incitement against the army and police through social networking websites.

ANHRI documented several cases in its report issued on 3 June: “The arbitrary arrest and forced disappearance campaign among citizens violates the constitution’s articles, particularly Article 54 that obliges security bodies to immediately inform the detainee with the reasons for his detention, to grant him/her the right to call a lawyer or family, and to refer him/her to an investigative body within 24 hours. Hence, this campaign indicates the return of dawn visitors practiced during the former Mubarak regime. Forced disappearance also constitutes crimes against humanity. Furthermore, Egypt’s international commitments oblige it to prevent any crime like forced disappearance, and to punish its perpetrators.”

ANHRI also demanded that the location of those who forcibly disappear be disclosed immediately and that the reason for their abduction be declared. Otherwise, they must be released and their safety and freedom ensured. The NGO stressed the victims’ right to justice and compensation, while those behind the arrests should be brought to trial. 

However, a source within the Interior Ministry told Al-Ahram Weekly that the ministry does not forcibly arrest any individual “in such a manner,” adding that the political orientation of any individual cannot be a reason behind arresting him unless he is affiliated to a terrorist group.

“In between the confirmation of the absentee’s families and the denial of the Interior Ministry over such measures, we will remain in a vicious circle. Thus, the general prosecutor should investigate such cases,” prominent human rights lawyer Negad Al-Borai told the Weekly.

“However, it is obviously a campaign to thwart any move on the ground planned for 30 June [the second anniversary of the nationwide revolt that toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi]. Individuals who are abducted, then reappear after a couple of weeks in prison is a possible indication that they are being held for questioning to get from them any information on upcoming protests,” Al-Borai said.

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