Enforced disappearance: The crime the Egyptian authorities use to terrorize society

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A few days ago, the Egyptian Front for Human Rights monitored the appearance of 4 of those who had been forcibly disappeared for more than three years, before the Supreme State Security Prosecution, for interrogation. This brought attention back to the issue of enforced disappearance, especially those who have disappeared for years and gave hope to their families to see their children again.

The four who disappeared appeared are Mustafa Shaaban, 35 years old, Mustafa Jumaa, 34 years old, Muhammad Ezzat Taha, 27 years old, and Muhammad Nasr Abdel Hamid, 32 years old. They were interrogated because they were connected to Case No. 145 of 2023 in front of the Supreme State Security Prosecution on charges of “publishing, broadcasting and broadcasting false news and data, misusing social media (Facebook), and joining a terrorist group with knowledge and promoting its purposes.”

Hope

The Executive Director of the Egyptian Front for Human Rights, Ahmed Nadeem, believes that the new case represents an opportunity for the authorities to end the enforced disappearance of people who have disappeared for a long time by including them as defendants pending cases by the State Security Prosecution. He explained: “It is conceivable that the reason behind this is that they are making room for state security headquarters, which are overcrowded.” This aroused hope in the hearts of hundreds of families who lost their children amid enforced disappearance and brought attention back to the issue that was absent from public discussions and even from the “national dialogue” negotiations, in which the Egyptian authorities invited the opposition to participate under the pretext of “cooperating to find solutions to the country’s political and economic crises.”

According to human rights organizations, the Egyptian authorities began using the “enforced disappearance” technique after the military coup on July 3, 2013 and expanded it significantly during this regime. Its goal is to terrorize and intimidate opponents and society in general and suppress any protest attempts. Khaled Mohamed Hafez, from Beni Suef Governorate, was one of the first forcibly disappear after the military coup. He disappeared on July 27, 2013, following clashes between supporters of President Mohamed Morsi. For nine years, Hanan searched everywhere for her husband, Khaled, in vain. She received information that he was injured in the clashes and was transferred for treatment in a hospital, after which he was transferred to Tora prison hospital, where he recovered from his injury. When she asked there, she did not find him, and the prison officials denied that he was with them.

Hanan searched her husband in official prisons and central security camps and conducted DNA analysis of the burnt corpses, which were not identified after the Rabaa al-Adaweya and al-Nahda sit-ins’ dispersal and did not match the bodies of the dead. She received information that her husband was in Al-Azoly Military Prison, a prison inside the headquarters of the Second Field Army in Ismailia Governorate, east of the capital. This prison is famous for detaining civilians and interrogating them at the hands of Military Intelligence interrogators. Hanan could not reach her husband in this prison, so she took all legal means to obtain justice for her husband before the prosecution, courts, and the National Council for Human Rights, but Khaled Mohamed Hafez still enforced disappearance.

Enforced disappearance extended to even children. In late December 2017, the security forces arrested a child, Abdullah Boumediene, from his family’s home in the city of Arish when he was only 12 years old. The arrest is believed to be related to his older brother, who joined the terrorist group “Sinai Province”. Security men forcibly disappeared Abdullah for more than six months before he appeared at the Azbakeya police station in Cairo in July 2018 to reveal to his lawyer that he had been detained in several security headquarters in North Sinai, including the National Security headquarters in Arish, and the 101st Battalion military base, and that the security men subjected him to horrific torture, including beatings, electrocution, simulated drowning, and deprivation of adequate food and showers. They also threatened him with torturing his mother if he did not reveal information about his brother to them. Abdullah remained detained and subjected to various violations until a judicial order was issued on December 27, 2018, to release and return him to his family. After 14 days of the issuance of the court order, the authorities transferred the boy to a second police station in Al-Arish, but did not release him as promised to his family, but rather forcibly disappeared him again. Since then, until now (4 years), Boumediene, still a child, has forcibly disappeared, and no one knows his whereabouts except the security services.

The security services were not satisfied with that but devoted part of their efforts to pursuing lawyers and families of the forcibly disappeared. The most prominent of these is the lawyer Ibrahim Abdel Moneim Metwally, the father of a victim of enforced disappearance, coordinator of the Association of Families of the Disappeared and one of its founders. Mr Ibrahim has been active in the field of supporting the forcibly disappeared and their families since the disappearance of his son Amr, 22, following clashes that took place in July 2013 in front of the Republican Guard headquarters, and he has not appeared since then, despite his father’s desperate attempts. In September 2017, Cairo International Airport security authorities stopped and arrested Ibrahim while travelling to meet the United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances and invited him to attend the proceedings of its 113th session at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. He has been detained since then.

A crime against humanity

Enforced disappearance is defined as when “persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government, or by organized groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government, followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law.” Enforced disappearance is frequently used as a strategy to spread terror within society. The feeling of insecurity generated by this practice is not limited to the relatives of the disappeared but also their local populations and society as a whole.

Both the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the International Convention for the Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearance stipulate that enforced disappearance is a crime against humanity when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on any civilian population and is therefore not subject to a statute of limitations. In addition, the victims’ families have the right to seek compensation and demand the truth regarding the disappearance of their loved ones.

Although the Egyptian constitution does not explicitly criminalize enforced disappearance, this is the understanding of its provisions, as Article 54 of its states that “Personal freedom is a natural right, and it is inviolable, and except cases of flagrant delicto, no one may be arrested, searched, or imprisoned. Anyone whose freedom is restricted must be informed of the reasons for that, his rights are informed in writing, and he can contact his family and lawyer immediately. He must be presented to the investigation authority within twenty-four hours when his freedom is restricted.” Article 55 of the Constitution stipulates that “Anyone who is arrested, imprisoned, or whose freedom is restricted must be treated in a manner that preserves his dignity, and he may not be tortured, intimidated, coerced, or harmed physically or morally, and his detention or imprisonment is only in designated places that are humanely and hygienically appropriate.”