Enforced disappearance: The chronic disease of the Egyptian police state

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Six human rights organizations have condemned the decision of the Supreme State Security Prosecution in Egypt to imprison at least 40 people after they were forcibly disappeared from the National Security (Political Security Apparatus) headquarters for varying periods, some of which exceeded three years. It is considered that the appearance of these citizens after their prolonged disappearance refutes the Egyptian authorities’ repeated denial of the spread of this systematic practice.

In a joint statement, the six organizations denounced the Supreme State Security Prosecution’s contention with bringing charges against the victims of enforced disappearance, abandoning its role as an investigative body into the facts of their disappearance for years, and holding members of the Ministry of Interior and the National Security Sector accountable, as mandated by the constitution, law, and international covenants.

Systematic practice

Human rights organizations monitored, between the end of 2022 and February 2023, the appearance of at least 40 people before the State Security Prosecution, more than three years after they were arrested and forcibly disappeared, including a child who was 13 years old at the time of his arrest and disappearance. During this period, they were held incommunicado in the headquarters of the National Security Sector in separate areas in Sheikh Zayed, Abbasiya, and Aswan, where some of them were tortured and interrogated illegally.

The Supreme State Security Prosecution accused most of those brought before it of joining a group established in violation of the law and ordered them to be imprisoned for 15 days pending 9 cases. Instead of the Public Prosecution investigating allegations that these defendants were hidden in illegal places of detention and subjected to torture, the Public Prosecution adopted the security narrative and the investigation records issued by the National Security Sector. It adopted the dates of the arrest reports stating that the suspects were arrested on a recent date that directly precedes the Public Prosecution’s investigations. The child, who appeared in the statement of the human rights organizations after more than three years of enforced disappearance, is Abdullah Boumediene, a child from North Sinai Governorate, who was arrested by the security forces, in late December 2017, from his family’s home in the city of Arish, when he was 12 years old. Just. The arrest is believed to be related to his older brother, who joined ISIS’s “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 They 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. Abdullah remained detained and subjected to various violations until a judicial order was issued on December 27, 2018, to release and hand him over to his family. After 14 days of issuing 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 instead forcibly disappeared again. Boumeddiene disappeared for four years before he recently appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution accused in a new case. Thus, the child has spent about a third of his life in the basements of the security services without guilt or crime.

According to human rights organizations, the Egyptian authorities began using the “enforced disappearance” technique on July 3, 2013 and expanded it significantly during the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. The aim is to terrorize and intimidate opponents and society in general, to suppress any attempts at protest. The “Stop Enforced Disappearance” campaign documented that between 2013 and January 2023, more than 3,600 people were subjected to enforced disappearance. In 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearance expressed its concern about 173 cases of enforced disappearance in Egypt, noting that it is a systematic problem and that those working on documenting it from members of the human rights community are subject to retaliation and abuse from the government.

A crime against humanity

Enforced disappearance is defined as “the arrest, detention, abduction of people against their will or other deprivation of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of government or by an organized group, or private individuals acting on behalf of or with the support of the government, directly or indirectly directly, or with their consent or acquiescence, and then refusing to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or refusing to acknowledge their deprivation of liberty places such persons outside the protection of the law.” Enforced disappearance is frequently used as a strategy to spread terror within society. The insecurity generated by this practice is not limited to the relatives of the disappeared but also their local populations and society.

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 protected, except, in cases of flagrant delicto, no one may be arrested, searched, or imprisoned.” Anyone whose freedom is restricted must be informed of the reasons, and his rights are notified in writing. He can contact his family and lawyer immediately, and 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.