Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Where are they?

The Interior Ministry takes no responsibility for dozens of enforced disappearances, reports Mona El-Nahhas

Al-Ahram Weekly

With the reported cases of enforced disappearances reaching an alarming rate, the Interior Ministry has responded to claims of its involvement just days before the anniversary of the 2011 January Revolution.

The state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) announced on 15 January that it had received a reply from the Interior Ministry regarding 111 cases of alleged enforced disappearance.

Mohamed Fayek, the NCHR chairman, revealed in press statements that the council, upon receiving the complaints, referred all of them to the Interior Ministry and asked for clarification. The total number of complaints sent to the ministry since June last year, according to Fayek, is 190.

The ministry informed the NCHR that 99 people out of that figure are being held in detention centres pending legal cases. Three more people, according to the ministry, had escaped from prison.

On Sunday, the ministry said it had examined 19 other cases of alleged enforced disappearance and submitted its results to the NCHR. The whereabouts of the remaining 60 are expected to be announced within the next few days.

Talking to the CBC satellite TV channel on Sunday evening, Nasser Amin, an NCHR member charged with monitoring the cases, promised he would “not close the file until the return of the last citizen”. Amin called on whoever finds a family member who had disappeared to inform the council in order that his or her name can be struck off the list of reported cases.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the NCHR said it examines all complaints regarding enforced disappearances, adding that it studies those submitted to it from national, international and regional organisations in line with international criteria for human rights.

The council said it receives complaints from all available sources, and on its website, asking families of those who have not been found to contact the council and provide it with the necessary information.

After the Interior Ministry’s statement, an association of the families of those who have disappeared called on the Prosecutor-General Judge Nabil Sadekto open a full investigation. It also asked the Interior Ministry to immediately release those it described as being illegally detained.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the association called for an investigation into the cases that were referred to the prosecution pending legal challenges, claiming that most of those accused had been tortured before making false confessions that they had committed certain fabricated crimes.

“The issue of enforced disappearance is nothing new in Egypt. It has been used for decades to repress political opponents. However, its rate has increased, especially since 2014,” Sherif Mohieddin, from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

After a long and desperate search, most often at the Prisons Authority and other security bodies, families usually appeal to legal NGOs seeking help. “It’s a crime under international law, with suspects banned from communicating with their families or lawyers,” said Mohieddin.

Last November, a group of human rights organisations launched a campaign to stop enforced disappearances. One campaign, Freedom for the Brave, put the number of enforced disappearances at 163 from April to June last year, and claimed that two people had died.

The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, another campaigner, released a report documenting 215 enforced disappearances in August and September.

The UK-based Human Rights Monitor filed an urgent complaint to the UN team working on enforced disappearances, demanding an investigation into 44 documented cases of enforced disappearance in Egypt.

The Interior Ministry has repeatedly denied instances of enforced disappearance or illegal detention in Egypt’s prisons. Last October, the Interior Minister’s HR assistant Salah Fouad described the reports as “allegations” circulated by the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Fouad asked for evidence that documents such complaints.

Legal views concerning the Interior Ministry’s position varied. “The statement issued by the Interior Ministry is a confession to a systematic crime. It is proof that security bodies have illegally arrested and detained citizens to silence any opposing voice,” Mohieddin said.

But legal activist Negad Al-Borai noted that by issuing such a statement the ministry has effectively closed the case of missing persons. The argument is that so long as the ministry has not refused to reveal the whereabouts of those who disappeared, it cannot be accused of committing a crime.

However, as Al-Borai noted, the statement opens another important issue: illegal detention. “The Interior Ministry should reveal how and when suspects were arrested, if legal procedures were followed properly when they were arrested, the charges they faced, if they were referred to the prosecution and if they were allowed to have lawyers,” Al-Borai said.

He added that the issue should not stop there. “I think there are many questions to which the ministry should give clear answers.”

Mohieddin insisted that the period preceding the ministry’s announcement is considered enforced disappearance. “With relatives getting no answers about the whereabouts of their loved ones, no other definition can be used,” he said.

He added that whoever is responsible for such crimes should be held accountable and that those who have been forcibly disappeared and are found should be compensated for the period of time they were held in detention.

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