Amnesty New Report: Enforced Disappearance Has Become a Key Instrument of State Policy in Egypt

Amnesty International has released a new report saying that hundreds of Egyptians have been forcibly disappeared and tortured in a “sinister” campaign to wipe out peaceful dissent in the most populous country in the Arab world, reported The Guardian.

“Enforced disappearance has become a key instrument of state policy in Egypt. Anyone who dares to speak out is at risk, with counter-terrorism being used as an excuse to abduct, interrogate and torture people who challenge the authorities,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director.

Egypt’s police have been implicated in an “unprecedented spike” in enforced disappearances since early 2015 aimed at quashing dissent, Amnesty International said in its report.

The London-based rights organization said abuses have escalated since the military coup in 2013 led by Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi ousting the first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi as the Egyptian security forces have been launching a massive crackdown on Islamist and secular opposition.

However, most of those who have “disappeared” are among the Islamic opposition and the supporters of Mohamed Morsi.

Even children weren’t saved from the Egyptian security forces violations. Children as young as 14 as well as students, political activists and protesters have vanished without any trace after security forces raided their homes.

Many have been held for months at a time and kept blindfolded and handcuffed. At least 34,000 people are behind bars, the government admits.

The report said children were among those being kept at undisclosed locations for up to several months at a time “to intimidate opponents and wipe out peaceful dissent.”

The report documents 17 cases, including five children, who had disappeared for periods of “between several days to seven months,” according to the statement.

One of them, Mazen Mohamed Abdallah, who was 14 in September, had been subjected to “horrendous abuse” including “being repeatedly raped with a wooden stick in order to extract a false ‘confession’,” Amnesty said.

Another child of the same age when arrested in January, Aser Mohamed, “was beaten, given electric shocks all over his body and suspended from his limbs in order to extract a false ‘confession’,” reported the rights watchdog.

In the same context, Amnesty report pointed out to the Ph.D. Italian student Giulio Regeni’s case. The Cambridge graduate student has disappeared in January this year and was found dead with his body bearing signs of torture, in Cairo in February.

Amnesty’s Felix Jakens says, “The terrible injuries sustained by Giulio Regeni are similar to those suffered by numerous people interrogated by the Egyptian security forces – his case is just the tip of the iceberg.”

“We fear Regeni was abducted by state agents and tortured to death, and until we get a thorough independent investigation into his death those suspicions are only going to grow.”

In fact, Egypt’s national security agency offices in Lazougly Square, Cairo, inside the interior ministry building hosts hundreds of people who are thought to be secretly held in.

The building is close to Tahrir Square, which witnessed January Revolution in 2011 that led to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in January 2011 due to economic corruption, political dissent and above all human rights violations by security forces.

Moreover, the Amnesty report highlighted that enforced disappearances have hiked since Magdy Abd el-Ghaffar was appointed to head the ministry in March 2015. Abd el-Ghaffar used to serve in Egypt’s state security investigations, the secret police force notorious for abuses under Mubarak. Detainees said methods of torture were the same as those used in the Mubarak era.

The report sheds light not only on the brutality faced by those forcibly disappeared but also to the overlapping relation and coordination  between national security forces and judicial authorities, who have been prepared to lie to cover their tracks or fail to investigate torture allegations, making them complicit in serious human rights violations.

The report says prosecutors have based charges on “confessions” extracted under coercion but they didn’t investigate torture allegations by ordering medical examinations. Detainees have been referred by prosecutors to an independent medical examination in very rare occasions and their lawyers have not been permitted to see the results.

Amnesty documented the cases of 17 people who were held incommunicado for periods ranging between several days to seven months and denied access to their lawyers or families or any independent judicial oversight.

According to the report quoted from victims and witnesses testimonies, “A typical disappearance starts with security officers in plain clothes, supported by heavily armed black-clad special forces, arriving at a suspect’s home at night or in the early hours and forcing their way in at gunpoint. Once inside, the officers detain, handcuff and blindfold the suspects, search for weapons and other incriminatory material and seize mobile phones and computers.”

One security officer told a detainee, “Do you think that you have a price?” “We can kill you and put you in a blanket and throw you in any trash bin and no one will ask about you.”

The Egyptian authorities have repeatedly denied violations and accused the rights watchdogs of “spreading false rumors” and supporting “terrorist” groups, including the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

But the report says, “The authorities did not provide factual evidence to corroborate their denials.”