Dozens Detained Secretly

(Beirut) – Egyptian security forces appear to have forcibly disappeared dozens of people. Egyptian authorities should immediately disclose their whereabouts and hold those responsible to account. The authorities should either release anyone illegally detained or charge the person with a recognizable crime, bring them immediately before a judge to review their detention, and try them before a court that meets international fair trial standards.

Enforced disappearances constitute a serious violation of international human rights law and, if carried out systematically as a matter of policy, are a crime against humanity. Egypt’s allies, especially the United States and European countries, should not participate in any assistance to Egypt’s internal security forces until Egypt transparently investigates serious abuses such as alleged enforced disappearance, Human Rights Watch said.

“Egyptian security forces have apparently snatched up dozens of people without a word about where they are or what has happened to them,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “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.”

Human Rights Watch documented the cases of five people forcibly disappeared and two people most likely forcibly disappeared between April 2014 and June 2015. In three of the cases, the people were last seen in the custody of state officials, although state authorities initially denied that the people had been detained or refused to reveal their whereabouts. In three cases, relatives and others who knew the disappeared said that security forces had apprehended the victims. A doctor who was disappeared in April 2014 remains unaccounted for.

International law defines enforced disappearances as:

[T]he arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty 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 liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.

Under international law, enforced disappearances are never justified, even during times of emergency.

The cases Human Rights Watch documented show a clear pattern of prosecutors failing to conduct transparent and independent investigations. In three cases, the people’s whereabouts were determined days or weeks later either because state authorities eventually acknowledged their detention or because other people saw them in official custody. In three other cases, individuals believed to have been forcibly disappeared by the security forces and in official custody were found dead after a period during which their whereabouts were unknown.

Egyptian rights organizations have credibly documented scores of additional cases of enforced disappearances in 2015 and in some cases from 2013. In a June 7, 2015 report, Freedom for the Brave, an independent group offering support to detainees, documented what it said were 164 cases of enforced disappearance since April and said that the whereabouts of at least 66 remained unknown. The report listed 64 people whose whereabouts were revealed after more than 24 hours, the maximum time allowed to detain someone without charge under Egyptian law.

In its latest annual report, released May 31, the quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) stated that it had verified nine cases of enforced disappearance. The report did not state whether prosecutors had investigated any of these cases. On June 9, the NCHR said it would review 55 cases of alleged enforced disappearance that their families had presented in a meeting. In an email to Human Rights Watch on July 9, the council said it had created a committee to look into complaints of enforced disappearances.

Khaled Abd al-Hamid, a Freedom for the Brave coordinator who attended the NCHR meeting, said he learned about 39 additional cases that his group had not previously documented. Most took place in April and May 2015, but some dated from the time of the ouster of Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s first freely elected president, in July 2013.

The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, an independent group, shared with Human Rights Watch detailed information about 14 other people who disappeared in the two months following the military’s removal of Morsy and have never reappeared. Their families filed official police reports and complaints to prosecutors, who never investigated, Mohamed Lotfy, the founder of the group, told Human Rights Watch.

The Interior Ministry has denied or refused to comment on alleged enforced disappearances. A senior unnamed police official told Agence France Press in June 2015, “We don't use these methods. If anyone has proof, they should file a formal complaint to the Interior Ministry.” Lotfy said the authorities have not responded to most complaints filed by independent groups, and it appears that the same is true for complaints relayed by the NCHR. Salah Salam, an NCHR member, told Al-Tahrir newspaper, “What is the use of receiving and reviewing complaints, while no one is answering them back.”

Ezzat Ghoneim, a lawyer with the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, an independent group that has documented violations against the Muslim Brotherhood, said that in March, it filed suit on behalf of four families against the president and interior minister at the Administrative Court and asked the judge to request authorities to disclose the fate and whereabouts of a number of disappeared people. The court has yet to rule on any of them. Ghoneim said that criminal courts had rejected four lawsuits his group filed against the prosecutor general for failing to investigate alleged enforced disappearance and that the group would appeal those rejections to the Cassation Court.

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances said in its most recent report, in September 2014, that it had 52 outstanding cases in Egypt under review. The group expressed “concern that the situation continues to deteriorate in Egypt, which may facilitate the occurrence of multiple human rights violations, including enforced disappearance.”

“If Egypt’s public prosecutors take no action to ensure the police and other security personnel follow the law and release detainees from secret detention, then they risk being complicit in those disappearances,” Stork said.

Accounts of Enforced Disappearance Cases
Human Rights Watch interviewed three lawyers, five rights activists, and four journalists, as well as close relatives in all except one of the seven cases, but agreed not to name some of those interviewed for security reasons. Human Rights Watch wrote to Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights requesting information regarding enforced disappearances.

Human Rights Watch also obtained documentation of 14 cases investigated by the Egyptian Commission for Rights And Freedoms, the list of 164 cases of alleged enforced disappearances collected by Freedom of the Brave, and three lists identifying a total of 786 people alleged to have been forcibly disappeared in March, April, and May compiled by the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms.

Asma’a Khalaf
Asma’a Khalaf is a resident gynecologist at Assiut University hospitals, in southern Egypt. Her brother, Mohamed Khalaf, told Human Rights Watch that she was last seen leaving the doctors’ living quarters at her hospital at about 7:30 a.m. on April 18, 2014, and has been missing ever since. He said that she was travelling to their home in Sohag governorate for vacation. The next day, her family filed a police report at Assiut police station. The authorities have not given them any information about Khalaf in response to their official request, although informally some security officials have told them that National Security Agency of the Interior Ministry is holding her.

On April 23, 2014, the Assiut prosecutor general wrote to two telecom companies that Khalaf used for her mobile phones authorizing them to disclose information regarding her account to her brother, Mohamed, including calls she made or received and where her phone was last located. He told Human Rights Watch that information from the service providers indicated the phone had been switched off at about 7:45 a.m. near the doctors’ dorm on the day she disappeared.

He said that a National Security officer who spoke unofficially with him about 10 days after his sister’s disappearance said that they took her to the National Security headquarters in Assiut and then moved her to a place he did not know. Mohamed Khalaf used connections and friends to speak with army and police officers in Assiut, who confirmed that National Security had arrested her and that “she was being treated well and would be released once interrogations are done.” He also met with the head of National Security in Assiut, who denied that the agency had arrested Khalaf.

Human Rights Watch obtained copies of letters that Mohamed Khalaf and his lawyers sent to government officials about the case, including several to Assiut governorate’s top prosecutor and the prosecutor general in Cairo as well as to former Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and then-interim President Adly Mansour. Khalaf said he also contacted the Doctors’ Syndicate, which in turn sent an official inquiry to the prosecutor general’s office.

He said he had sent a letter to the National Council for Human Rights after his sister’s disappearance but received no reply. He said he filed another complaint when families met with the NCHR on June 9, 2015.

Khalaf told Human Rights Watch that he thought his sister had been arrested because “she was religious and wearing the niqab,” a woman’s garment that covers all but the eyes. He said that his father’s health deteriorated following Khalaf’s disappearance and that he died in February.

Islam Atito
Islam Atito was a student in his final year at Ain Shams University School of Engineering. Witness accounts indicate that he was probably apprehended by authorities on May 19, 2015. One family member told Human Rights Watch on May 22 that the day he disappeared they searched for him in hospitals and police stations but that no one acknowledged his presence. On May 20, the Interior Ministry claimed in a statement on Facebook that Atito had been killed in a shootout with security forces who had been searching for those responsible for the April 21 assassination of Col. Wael Tahoun, former head of investigations at Cairo’s Matariya police station. Numerous detainees have died in custody at this facility since July 2013. A previously little-known group called the Execution Battalion took responsibility for Tahoun’s killing on Facebook the day after the killing, saying it was revenge for the death in custody of lawyer Karim Hamdy.

The Interior Ministry’s May 20 statement accused the Muslim Brotherhood of participating in Tahoun’s killing and claimed that Atito was a Brotherhood member. The ministry said that security forces had tracked Atito to a hiding place along a “desert path” in Cairo’s Fifth Settlement suburb, where Atito opened fire on the security forces and that they had returned fire, killing him.

The close relative of Atito and fellow students who published accounts on Facebook presented a contradictory version of the events. These accounts said Atito was most likely arrested on the Ain Shams University campus after taking a final exam on May 19.

A statement by the Ain Shams Engineering student union said that a university administration employee accompanied by another man came into room 260A of the university during an exam and asked for Atito, saying he should go to the student affairs office after the exam. After Atito finished the exam, the unknown man took him away, the statement said. Two anonymous accounts by people who said they were witnesses appeared in Daily News Egypt, an independent news platform, and the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper. Both said that men in civilian clothes chased and apprehended Atito and put him in a car inside the campus. One of those who chased Atito was holding a radio, one witness said.

The family member who spoke with Human Rights Watch said he last saw Atito at about 10 a.m. on May 19 at the university and that the family heard nothing more until the next day, when they learned from news reports that he had died. When they went to collect his body from the morgue, he said, they found that the death certificate stated that Atito was shot in the head, chest, and abdomen and had lacerations on his neck. The relative, who said he saw Atito’s body in the morgue, said that there were signs of torture on his body. The relative said that at least 10 of Atito’s colleagues confirmed to the family the student union’s account of Atito’s disappearance. The relative also said that Atito was not a member of any group but had taken part in anti-government protests after the January 2011 uprising.

Atito’s funeral attracted large numbers of students and sympathizers, some of whom were arrested when the funeral turned into a spontaneous protest and released shortly after. In the video his mother appeared to be crying and said that Atito’s ribs and one arm had been broken. Students investigating Atito’s case told Sharif Abdel Kuddous, a journalist, that they had received threatening anonymous phone calls “warning them to back off.”

The Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression, an independent Egyptian group, issued a detailed report on the incident. A researcher for the association told Human Rights Watch that the family declined to seek assistance and to appoint a lawyer. One witness cited in the association’s report, who said he was in the exam hall with Atito, gave the researcher an account of Atito’s disappearance that matched the student union’s statement.

A couple of days after Atito’s killing, prosecutors opened an investigation and told Mohamed Suleiman, Atito’s professor in the class for which he took the exam on May 19, to submit Atito’s exam paper as evidence that Atito took the exam. Suleiman told Human Rights Watch that he was not in the exam hall but was in direct communication with the supervisor of the exam hall, who confirmed that Atito was there.

An official faculty statement said that prosecutors visited the School of Engineering and met with the administration, which gave them documents, including Atito’s examination papers. Suleiman said that prosecutors invited him to watch video footage recorded by a surveillance camera installed on the top of the campus gates. He said that the camera on gate three showed “the beginning of a chase.” Atito first went out quietly at about 11:23 a.m., 20 minutes after the exam ended, but came back with two people walking behind him, Suleiman said. The last images show Atito beginning to run toward an unused part of the campus, and the two men starting to run after him, he said.

Suleiman said that prosecutors confiscated the recording but that he did not know if they also took recordings from other cameras. He said that he could not identify those chasing Atito.

News reports said that prosecutors summoned police officers for questioning about Atito’s killing, as well as several students and other witnesses. The Forensic Medical Authority autopsy report confirmed that Atito was shot five times but did not mention signs of torture. On May 30, prosecutors referred the case to the State Security Prosecution.

On May 28, prosecutors who investigated Atito’s case submitted the documents they collected to the state security prosecutors who were investigating Tahoun’s killing to “re-investigate Tahoun’s killing from the beginning.” An independent prosecutor should investigate the circumstances surrounding Atito’s death, Human Rights Watch said.

Sabry al-Ghoul
Sabry al-Ghoul, 45, was a prominent activist in al-Arish, a city in North Sinai governorate, and a member of the large Fawakhriya clan. People knowledgeable about his case said that police arrested him on or around May 20 and released him on May 26, apparently without charging him with any offense. Several days later, it is unclear exactly when, army officers arrested him again at his home.

The armed forces spokesman’s Facebook page on June 2 gave statistics about arrests of wanted suspects in May, saying the army had arrested 71 people. It claimed that the “most prominent” was al-Ghoul, whom it described as “a leader in the Brotherhood terrorist group.” The statement, which did not include the date of al-Ghoul’s arrest, claimed that all those arrested were “sent to investigation bodies to take the legal measures against them.”

Because Human Rights Watch was unable to determine the precise date of al-Ghoul’s detention and whether the authorities acknowledged his detention prior to the June 2 statement, Human Rights Watch cannot state conclusively that al-Ghoul’s case was an enforced disappearance.  

A few hours after the June 2 statement was posted, al-Ghoul’s body was delivered to al-Arish Hospital. The statement did not clarify the date al-Ghoul was arrested.

The armed forces did not comment after al-Ghoul’s death and no other government official has clarified the time, place, or cause of death. Some pro-government newspapers said that al-Ghoul died due to “acute circulatory failure,” a phrase commonly written in death certificates of many suspicious deaths in Egypt. Other privately owned newspapers said that al-Ghoul died in “mysterious circumstances.”

Two Sinai activists told Human Rights Watch that al-Ghoul was not a Muslim Brotherhood leader and that he was a well-known and respected activist in al-Arish. He had belonged to the then-ruling National Democratic Party before the 2011 uprising. One activist said that al-Ghoul participated in pro-Morsy protests after security forces began using violence against protesters because “his message was to stop violence.” A journalist from al-Arish who was outside Egypt at the time told Human Rights Watch that he could not get the family’s account of what happened because it was “unsafe to talk.”

One of the activists said that al-Ghoul was arrested once before and released in May, not long before his final arrest. One journalist from the city of al-Arish, a friend of al-Ghoul who said he was in touch with the relatives, told Human Rights Watch that the relatives said al-Ghoul had bruises in his pelvis and chest and red spots behind his ears. The prosecutor has not announced an investigation into al-Ghoul’s death.

Esraa al-Taweel, Omar Ali, and Souhaib Sa’ad
Three university students, Esraa al-Taweel and her two friends Omar Ali and Souhaib Sa’ad, all in their early 20s, were apparently arrested on June 1 as they walked along the Nile River cornice in Cairo’s Maadi neighborhood, according to four members of their families who spoke with Human Rights Watch. Interior Ministry officials repeatedly denied arresting any of them but more than two weeks later relatives saw them in various detention facilities. Shortly thereafter, prison authorities allowed them to start receiving family visits.

Al-Taweel lived with her two younger sisters in Cairo. Her parents and three other siblings live abroad. One sister, Dou’a, told Human Rights Watch that Ali and Sa’ad came to al-Taweel’s home at about 5 p.m. on June 1 to go for an outing.

“Esraa is disabled,” her sister said. “She was injured by a bullet when she was participating in a protest in the 2014 anniversary of the January 2011 uprising. She cannot go out alone.”

Al-Taweel used a wheelchair for months, then was able to walk with crutches or with her friends’ assistance, Dou’a al-Taweel told Human Rights Watch. She said that Ala’a, the other sister who lived with them, called al-Taweel to check in with her at about 8 p.m., and that another friend was in touch with al-Taweel at about 9 p.m. After that, all three students’ phones were switched off, said Sarah Ali, Omar Ali’s sister, and Osama Sa’ad, Souhaib Sa’ad’s brother.

Relying on sources they declined to identify, the families said they managed to identify the last place the three were by tracking the last saved GPS location of their mobile phones before they were switched off.

Three family members said the locations had been “at or close” to Maadi police station, in southern Cairo. Al-Taweel’s father, Mahfouz al-Taweel, said the families asked their sources to help determine the students’ whereabouts a few days later, but the sources said that the GPS data had been deleted from the servers.

Dou’a al-Taweel said that relatives of the three went to Maadi police station on June 2, a day after their disappearance. Officers there denied that the three were there and said that their names were not in the station log. One policeman told them to wait until he checked a room they referred to as al-tallaga, an Egyptian word referring to a refrigerator. The sister said the policeman told her that they put detainees in this room when they want to keep them in incommunicado detention or if they are charged in national security cases.

A short while later, the policeman returned and said that the three were not there. He pointed at another building behind the station that resembled a villa and said the detainees could be there. Ali’s sister Sarah said she described al-Taweel to the police officer as “a limping girl with two young males” and that the policeman acknowledged that people fitting this description had been arrested but “was afraid to talk.” She said lawyers and activists told her that they had not known that this villa was a National Security building. Sarah said that only one narrow street full of police and barriers led to the villa.

Al-Taweel’s father, Mahfouz al-Taweel, said that the family filed complaints to the presidency, the prosecutor general, and the Interior Ministry the day after al-Taweel’s disappearance, but that none had replied.

On June 8, he said, he spoke by telephone with Manchette (Headline), a television news show broadcast by the privately owned ONtv network, at a time when Maj. Gen. Abu Bakr Abd al-Karim, from the media department of the Interior Ministry, was a guest on the show. When al-Taweel accused agents of “State Security” – renamed National Security in 2011– of kidnapping his daughter, Abd al-Karim rejected the accusations and said, “If Esraa was in custody at any security agency, all legal measures would have been followed…and [she would have been] placed in custody according to an order from the prosecution.”

The host, journalist Gaber al-Armouty, asked Abd al-Karim if family members and lawyers should be informed when police arrest someone. Abd al-Karim responded, “Legal procedures are followed.” Al-Armouty repeated the question, and Abd al-Karim said, “The family should know one way or another.” Al-Armouty asked if a lawyer should be informed, and Abd al-Karim said “Yes, exactly this.” No member of the Interior Ministry has ever acknowledged arresting al-Taweel, Ali, or Sa’ad.

Al-Taweel’s father and sister both said that al-Taweel had not been involved in politics or protests since she was injured in January 2014. They also said she had never been arrested or charged with a crime. They said they were concerned that al-Taweel had been deprived of her medication during her disappearance. Al-Taweel also missed the last one or two of her university’s final exams, her father said.

Her sisters said that a woman who was visiting her imprisoned relative at al-Qanater women’s prison told them she saw al-Taweel there on June 16. When Dou’a al-Taweel and other relatives went to the prison the next day to ask about al-Taweel, officials denied them access but they observed her being transferred to a prison car to take her to a prosecutor’s office. “This was the first moment we saw Esraa in 17 days,” Dou’a al-Taweel said.

She said they followed al-Taweel to the prosecution’s office and learned from a volunteer lawyer that this was the third time she had been brought there, but the lawyer said he could not obtain any information about the cases in which al-Taweel was involved. Late that night, June 17, uniformed security forces came to the al-Taweel home and asked for Dou’a al-Taweel. The officer in charge refused to show a warrant or reveal his identity or his affiliation but took all laptops in the house and told Dou’a al-Taweel to sign a paper promising to attend the next morning’s session with al-Taweel at the prosecution office. Al-Taweel’s family first refused to turn over the laptops without a prosecutor’s order, but the officer told them he would beat them and take whatever he wanted.

At the session the next day, al-Taweel did not appear, but her family was allowed to visit her. One relative said that because several female prison wardens were present, al-Taweel appeared unable to tell them much detail about what happened during her disappearance, but said she had been held in National Security Agency headquarters in Cairo’s Lazoghly Square.

Al-Taweel’s lawyer, Halim Hanish, told Human Rights Watch that he and other lawyers managed to attend the prosecutor’s interrogation of al-Taweel on June 27 but that the prosecutor denied the lawyers access to any documents. The prosecutor told them that al-Taweel was under pretrial detention and charged with belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, designated by the government as a terrorist organization, and with disseminating false news.

Al-Taweel’s health is deteriorating as there is no proper health care in the prison, Hanish said. Her family is concerned that she’s losing the ability to walk for lack of physical therapy. The lawyers’ request to transfer her to a place with proper health care facilities had received no response, Hanish said on July 10.

Prosecutors had previously charged Souhaib Sa’ad alongside other students in a prominent case against Al Jazeera journalists. Authorities arrested Sa’ad on January 2, 2014, and released him on February 12, 2015, after the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial.

Sohaib Sa’ad’s brother Osama said that his brother was required to appear daily at the Haram police station in Giza governorate, in the western part of greater Cairo. When Osama Sa’ad went to the police station on June 2 to report that his brother had disappeared the previous day, officers there asked him for an official police report proving that he had been arrested. Osama Sa’ad said that during a June 4 court session in the Al Jazeera retrial, the judge said that if Sa’ad did not show up he would order his arrest.

Sarah Ali, Omar Ali’s sister, said that authorities repeatedly denied that Ali or Sa’ad were in prison. She said that Ali’s friends made a hashtag for him, “freedom for the unimportant detainee,” reflecting how little he cared about politics. She said that relatives of other inmates in Tora Prison informed Ali’s and Sa’ad’s families that they had seen the two men there.

Authorities continued to deny that the men were being held but finally allowed the families to visit on June 25 and 26, Sarah Ali and Osama Sa’ad said. They confirmed that both Ali and Sa’ad were held in Tora prison after being detained for weeks in the National Security Agency headquarters and in a military intelligence building in Cairo. The relatives said that both Ali and Sa’ad said the military prosecution interrogated them twice in the absence of lawyers while their families were still looking for them.

Osama Sa’ad said that on June 29, Sa’ad appeared at a court hearing in the Al Jazeera case after missing two sessions in which the judge considered him a fugitive and refused to acknowledge he was in custody. The brother said that when Sa’ad finally appeared in court the judge said: “If you only knew what I did to bring you to the session!”

Both families said the lawyers have not been able to obtain any official information about the cases Ali and Sa’ad are involved in or the nature of the charges against them.

On July 10, several Egyptian TV channels broadcasted a video statement that was first posted on the Defense Ministry YouTube channel announcing the arrest of what it alleged to be “one of the most dangerous terrorist cells belonging to special operations unit of the terrorist Brotherhood organization.” The statement named both Ali and Sa’ad as among those accused of being part of the “monitoring and information collecting” unit of the group. The army statement alleged that it had arrested all members of the cell “from their headquarters … following permission of the judicial bodies” and that it found a number of guns, explosives, and ammunition. The video showed several people, including Sa’ad, confessing their alleged roles in the group.

“My brother was in prison for over a year and then he was then requested to show every day in the police station,” Osama Sa’ad said. “When did he manage to do all of this? They say he was arrested from [our] home with explosives and guns but we know he was arrested from the street.” Osama said that his brother told them he was tortured. “He didn’t tell us much details but he said he was electrocuted while suspended for three days from his wrists.”

Al-Sayed al-Rassed
Al-Sayed al-Rassed, 46, worked at a city government hospital in Banha, the capital of Qalyubia governorate. Security forces, consisting of several police in civilian clothes and a Central Security Forces officer and soldiers in uniform, arrested him at about 2 a.m. on June 4, 2015, his son Mohamed told Human Rights Watch. They did not say where they were taking him, and three days later, al-Rassed’s family received a call from the assistant to the mayor of their town asking them to retrieve his father’s body, which was in the hospital morgue. When Mohamed went to the morgue workers told him an ambulance delivered his father’s body there without providing any details.

Mohamed al-Rassed described his father’s arrest: “They suddenly started to destroy our door but I hurried to open it for them. They asked about my father and I asked them for a few minutes until the women could cover their bodies. They started searching the house and they found nothing but a few papers that they took, including our house contract.”

He said the officer did not show a warrant when asked but said the officers were taking his father to Banha police station. The next morning, officers at the Banha police center told Mohamed al-Rassed that they had not sent any arrest patrol out the previous night and speculated that his father might have been taken to the Banha Central Security Forces (CSF) camp.

Egypt’s CSF are paramilitary forces often used to confront protests and riots and to defend government facilities. Egyptian rights groups repeatedly documented the illegal use of CSF camps as detention facilities. In December 2014, an Egyptian human rights lawyer and relatives of the detained told Human Rights Watch that police illegally held dozens of detainees including children in the camp. Mohamed said his father opposed the current government but did not join protests regularly.

Mohamed al-Rassed said he filed an urgent complaint with the prosecutor in Banha, saying that his father was missing. He said he sought lawyers’ help, many of whom refused and told him they were afraid to work on such cases. The authorities continued to deny that they were holding al-Rassed at the Banha CSF camp, but the son said that a lawyer he had engaged to work on his father’s case confirmed on June 6 that his father was in the CSF camp, as did some released detainees.

“Torture marks were all over his body,” Mohamed al-Rassed said, describing what he believed to be marks of electrocution and beating.

He said he discovered that the local prosecutor had ordered an autopsy of his father’s body. The prosecutor told him that he did so because the police alleged that al-Rassed had hanged himself, but he had not been found with rope around his neck. When the prosecutor removed al-Rassed’s clothes, he found “marks that raised questions,” the son said. The death certificate Mohamed al-Rassed received did not state the reason for his father’s death. In the first interview, shortly after al-Rassed’s death, his son said that the Forensic Authority doctor might “face pressure” not to submit a report.

He said that the police report said that his father hanged himself. The police report to the prosecution office also stated that his father had been arrested on June 7, three days after he had in fact been taken away.

The arrest charges against his father included joining “a terrorist group” (i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood) and training others to attack the police and army. Mohamed al-Rassed said he did not continue reading the charges against his father because of how unbelievable they were. He said that his father’s signature was missing from the report. Mohamed al-Rassed said that the police report said that a National Security officer named Mohamed Ahmed took al-Rassed from his home. The son asked the prosecutor to allow him to see the officer to determine if he was the one who took his father but the prosecutor did not respond.

He later said that the forensic report was delivered to the prosecutor more than 20 days after his father’s death and that the prosecutor investigating his father’s case was replaced. The autopsy report claimed that al-Rassed hanged himself but did not provide the time or place of death. On a subsequent visit, the son said, the prosecutor allowed him to read the report but refused to give him a copy.

Enforced Disappearances and the Law
Egypt is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that prohibits arbitrary and illegal detentions according to article 9, which also necessitates compensation. Egypt is also a party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, whose Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance require state authorities to inform the family or friends of a detained person, guarantee the detainee access to legal representation, and bring a detained person before a judicial authority to determine the legality of any detention order. Egypt has not ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which the UN adopted in 1992, nor the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which includes enforced disappearances among the crimes over which the ICC has jurisdiction.

The crime of enforced disappearance may simultaneously violate multiple non-derogable human rights protections – rights that cannot be suspended – including the right to life, freedom from torture or inhuman and degrading treatment, and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. It is also an ongoing violation that continues so long as the disappeared person remains missing.

Egypt’s code of criminal procedure requires the authorities to have a prosecution order to make an arrest, except in cases in which they witness someone in the act of committing a crime. It also requires police to present any detainee to prosecutors within 24 hours, and prosecutors to charge the detainee based on evidence or release the person immediately.

International law requires that all detainees be brought “promptly” (i.e. within days) before a judicial officer or equivalent to review the legality and necessity of their detention. Under Egyptian law, prosecutors can order up to four days of detention pending investigation. After that, only a judge can extend pretrial detention, for up to 45 days, renewable. An Egyptian lawyer who works closely with detained activists told Human Rights Watch that in practice prosecutors take over judicial powers and decide whether to extend pretrial detention in national security cases.

Associated documents