By Sarah El-Sheikh
Prominent human rights NGOs launched a week-long campaign on Tuesday in solidarity with forced disappearance victims and their families.
In that regard, the Press Syndicate and several of the human rights entities organised a conference entitled ”Forced disappearance are a crime against humanity” on Monday, hosted by Mohamed Abdel-Kodous, the former rapporteur of the freedoms committee at the syndicate.
Journalists at the syndicate highlighted that their detained and arrested colleagues are suffering from serious health conditions and that their families are not able to send them the required medication.
They decided to sign a petition and present it to the syndicate, requesting coordination with the interior minister to provide the detained with medical care. They also expressed their anger that none of the syndicate members had visited any of their colleagues.
Meanwhlie, the El Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence highlighted the story of Maha Mekkawy, who has been on hunger strike since 24 October and is seeking information from the interior ministry about her husband Ashraf Shehata, who disappeared a year and 10 months ago, after leaving his office and receiving a call.
”I wonder how Al-Sisi thinks the broadcasters’ criticism of him is torture, while dozens of journalists in detention cells suffer from torture and various abuses,” said head of the freedoms committee at the Press Syndicate, Khaled El-Balashy.
El-Balashy further noted that the syndicate filed a complaint last week to the Prosecutor General regarding three journalists that were forcibly disappeared. He said their detention locations were identified several days after the syndicate’s attempts to find them.
Forced disappearance is a widespread phenomenon in Egypt, added El-Balashy. All messages from detainees indicate that they are all suffering from psychical and psychological abuses.
According to the NGOs, detainees are regularly seen in court with signs of torture. Security forces abduct individuals from their homes in the middle of the night or their universities, and hold them in secret locations for significantly long periods without informing their families. Detainees are also being sent to trial sessions without their lawyers.
This contradicts the 2014 constitution, which states in Article 54 that personal freedoms are protected, and unless the person is witnessed while committing any crime, it is not allowed to inspect or arrest him. It also stipulates that persons must not be arrested or detained or have any restrictions imposed on their freedom except following a court order that necessitates investigations.
In addition, all those arrested or detained should be allowed to immediately contact their kin and lawyer, and be presented to the investigating authority within 24 hours of the time of arrest.
According to the NGOs, there were at least 215 cases of forced disappearance across the country in August and September. Meanwhile, in first eight months of 2015, 1,250 cases were recorded, while 1,411 cases were recorded in the first 10 months. The locations of only 332 cases were revealed out of the 1,411 cases.
In January, 44 cases were recorded, 91 cases in February, and 160 cases in March. The number of cases gradually increased after March after the appointment of Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, according to the rights organisations. There were 393 recorded cases in May.
According to El Nadeem Centre, in a report in October, three people died in detention due to torture, and four died due to medical negligence. Furthermore, 27 people were left without food and water, and 22 prisoners were deprived of medical care.
The report also added that 700 university students are spending their second year in detention, 97 people died in the detention since January due to medical negligence. In addition, security forces arrested 11,877 people on “terrorism” charges, including children and women, since January 2015.
”We have 33 of our colleagues suffering from humiliation in detention and suffering from degrading treatment, and we also have a long list of forced disappearance cases in Egypt next to the 134 deaths in places of detention in 2015,” El-Balshy said.
Families call for their relatives’ release
”My two brothers Omar and Anas Allam were arrested in the middle of the night by ‘dawn visitors’ in September when they were on summer vacation in Alexandria. We were notified of the incident by our neighbours,” said Somaya Allam.
She added that the family had filed 13 complaints in Menufiya, Alexandria and Cairo, but the brothers cannot be found. “I’m in the last year of secondary school and I cannot study. Whenever the door bell rings I immediately run to the door hoping it’s my brothers. Release my brothers,” Allam said.
The mother of Mohamed Abdel Azzim, who was also forcibly disappeared, told Daily News Egypt he was arrested in September without any information provided. According to her account, when she went to complain about her son’s disappearance at the police station, they left her waiting for about four hours, but they immediately responded to a man’s complaint about his lost mobile.
Another mother said her son was arrested in the Republican Guard clashes in 2013. “I want to know whether he is alive or not. I’m calling on the government to return my son. If they want to execute him, first let me see him and then they can do whatever they want,” she said.