A 22-year-old Egyptian student has disappeared after being dragged away from a Cairo metro station by a group of men, suspected to be police officers in plain clothes, shortly before security forces raided his family home, according to Al-Jazeera.
“Unknown men apprehended Omar Khaled at a metro station in Egypt’s capital, Cairo, on Thursday while he was on his way to meet friends at university, “according to a witness.
On the other hand, Ghada Rifaat, Khaled’s’ mom said that the officials told her that they did not know where her son was. She also said that the security forces raided the family’s home shortly after he disappeared.
Rifaat said, “There was absolutely no warning or indication … he was going out normally to meet his friends and was kidnapped on the way.”
“Had it not been for another student on his course tweeting that she had seen him being dragged away from the station by suspected security men in plain clothes, they would’ve had no idea about what happened to him.”
Khaled’s mom describes her son, a student of engineering, as apolitical.
“Omar wasn’t politically active,” she said. “He’s just an Egyptian student that loves his country and wants the best for it.”
She added that her requests for more information from police have so far been met with “shrugs”.
Khaled’s disappearance was met with a great dissent among his friends at Cairo’s Ain Shams University as several of his classmates planned to wear T-shirts calling for his release.
Moreover, Egyptian activists on social media used the hashtag “Where is Omar Khaled?” to highlight his disappearance. In addition, a Facebook page demanding his release was also set up.
The Phenomenon of Enforced Disappearance in Egypt
Since the military coup in Egypt led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi against Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, hundreds of Egyptians were imprisoned, abducted, and tortured. Many have died because of torture and medical negligence.
Amnesty International has released a report in July 2016 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.
Enforced disappearance is defined according to Amnesty International as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of freedom by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of freedom or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”
Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director said, “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.”
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.
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.
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.”
In the same context, The Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms ECRF, a non-governmental rights group, released a report on enforced disappearance covering the period from the beginning of January 2016 to the end of June. The Egyptian rights group said that it documented 1000 enforced disappearances cases in the first half of 2016, at a rate of 5 cases per day.
The (ECRF) has reported, “1000 cases of enforced disappearance of civilians by the security forces in the first half of this current year,” according to Anadolu Agency. It pointed that,”232 citizens were subjected to enforced disappearance in January, 204 citizens in February, 184 citizens disappeared in March, 111 citizens disappeared in April, 201 in May, and 69 citizens disappeared in June, compared to 1873 cases of enforced disappearances in the whole year of 2015.”
The local rights group said, “several cases appeared later in custody but after a long period of time and others are killed, most of these accusations are denied by the Ministry of Interior.”
It added that it documented 2811 cases of enforced disappearances by the Egyptian security since July 3, 2013 (the date when Mohamed Morsi was ousted) till the end of last June.
Where are the Egyptian youths?
Omar Khaled’s disappearance occurred days after the First National Youth Conference held in Sharm al-Sheikh and attended by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The conference was met with great criticism due to the presence of hundreds of youths in Egypt’s prisons.
In response, A virtual conference, parallel to al-Sisi ‘s Sharm al-Sheikh Conference “Youth Conference”, was held on the social networking sites, where Egyptian activists launched the hashtag #Al-Shabab Fein? (#Where_Have_The_Young_Ones_Gone?) The Hashtag was ordered the first on Twitter Trend charts.
For three days, activists on the social networking sites try to answer the question (Where are the youth?) by sharing stories and photos of Egyptian youth who are now detained in Egypt’s prisons, tortured, forcibly disappeared or killed by the Egyptian military regime.
In the same context, the Egyptian military shot dead a young student from al-Arish in north Sinai as she traveled on a road between Cairo and Alexandria.
The victim’s father Hamdi Azzazi said that his daughter, aged 22, was studying at the School of Economics and Political Science and was killed by a hail of bullets from security forces.
“The car came under fire after the driver lost his way and entered a forbidden area, with troops firing on the car.” Security sources said the incident was an “accident” and had nothing to do with security as quoted by the Egyptian media.