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HRW report documents dozens of forced disappearances since 2014

The New York-based international human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on Monday documenting dozens of cases of secret detentions and state security-enforced disappearances in Egypt since April 2014.

The HRW report quoted deputy Middle East director Joes Stork as saying, “Egyptian security forces have apparently snatched up dozens of people without a word about where they are or what has happened to them,” he continued that, “The failure of the public prosecution to seriously investigate these cases reinforces the nearly absolute impunity that security forces have enjoyed under President al-Sisi.”

The report documented five specific cases where HRW talked to family members, lawyers and activists about the disappeared individual. The cases studied by HRW reveal instances of torture, undocumented detention and, in two cases, the death of the detainee. The rights watchdog also investigated two other cases, but was unable to confirm that the individuals were forcibly disappeared in these instances.

One of the most well-known cases researched by HRW is that of Islam Atito, an engineering student at Ain Shams University, who was taken from his university campus by unidentified men, according to witness reports. The following day, the Interior Ministry released a statement via its official Facebook page stating Atito was killed in an exchange of fire with security forces.

A relative who spoke to HRW said that they had not seen Atito after he left for school, and only learned of his death through newspaper headlines. The relative, who identified Atito in the morgue, said that his body showed signs of torture. According to the relative, when they arrived at the morgue, they found that Atito’s death certificate stated that he was “was shot in the head, chest, and abdomen and had lacerations on his neck.”

HRW also researched the death of North Sinai resident Sabry al-Ghoul, an activist in Arish, whose body was recieved by a hospital in the city on June 2. HRW spoke to a journalist and friend of Ghoul, who stated that he had been in contact with Ghoul’s family members. “The relatives said Ghoul had bruises in his pelvis and chest and red spots behind his ears,” he alleged.

Also on June 2, the Armed Forces spokesperson stated that Ghoul was arrested, along with 70 others, in May. In the statement, the spokesperson called Ghoul “a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist group.”

In each case discussed in the HRW report, family members denied that their relatives had any affiliation to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.

The report additionally relied on several reports from local human rights organizations to document the number of people forcibly disappeared or detained.

The Freedom for the Brave campaign released a report on June 7 documenting the disappearances of 163 people since April, 2015, 66 of whom remain unaccounted for. According to the report, an additional 64 people were detained without charges or interrogation for over 24 hours in an undisclosed location before they were found, in violation of the Constitution.

HRW also quoted figures from the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), which released a report on May 29 stating it had documented and verified nine cases of forced disappearances, and were reviewing 55 cases of relatives alleging that someone in their family had disappeared. HRW noted that the report did not state whether prosecutors were investigating said disappearances.

Legally, Egypt is bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which according to HRW, “prohibits arbitrary and illegal attentions, according to Article 9, which also necessitates compensation.” Egypt is also party to the African Charter on Human and People’s RIghts, which requires state authorities to inform kin if a person is detained, provide legal assistance to the detainee and bring the detained person in front of a judicial authority to determine whether their detention is legal.

Egypt’s Penal Code requires a prosecution order before security forces make an arrest, unless they witness someone in the act of committing a crime. Authorities are also required to bring detainees to prosecutors within 24 hours of their detention, after which the prosecutor must charge the detainee with a crime based on evidence or immediately release them.

An anonymous official told the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) that Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report “follows a series of lies promoted by the organization,” privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported later on Tuesday. 

The official said HRW “continues to target Egypt, proving their deliberate ill intentions to internationally offend and embarrass the country.” 

They claimed HRW “uses undocumented sources that don’t provide real information on the cases they refer to,” and specifically criticized Monday’s report for “claiming a number of individuals were forcibly disappeared and are in detention, when most of them have been convicted in criminal cases or are in custody pending trial before ordinary courts.” 

The official referred to Asmaa Khalad’s case, whose name was mentioned in the report, claiming that official investigations proved that she disappeared voluntarily due to a family dispute. 

“The report raises questions regarding the true intentions of HRW and ruins their credibility. It shows that they are but a tool, spreading rumors about Egypt to destroy its stability and internal security and to undermine trust in the Egyptian state,” the official added.