Disappearances, deaths, and arrests of students in Egypt’s universities have escalated towards the end of the academic year, as documented in the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression’s (AFTE) monthly reports on students’ rights.
The research compiles violations against students, whether by university staff, government security forces or the private agency employed by university administrations. Falcon was contracted by the Ministry of Interior at the beginning of this academic year to secure various public universities.
AFTE documents ongoing raids of university campuses by the police, including the storming of Al-Azhar University’s girls section four times despite no demonstrations. The group also reported 30 arrests of students through having their houses raided in the past month.
As well as the arrests and raids, there have also been deaths that point responsibility towards the Ministry of Interior and university administrations, with the report highlighting cases including Islam Ateeto and Anas El-Mahdy.
Ateeto was sitting an exam at Ain Shams University on 19 May, when “an unidentified man, accompanied by a university staff member, asked that the student Islam Salah Al-Din Ateeto go with the man to the student affairs office after the exam to provide a copy of his national ID”, a statement by the university’s student union said. The next day Ateeto was found dead.
The Ministry of Interior accused Ateeto of killing police officer Wael Tahoon in April, and claimed that the student died in a shoot-out with officers in a desert den. However, according to testimonies Daily News Egypt received from eyewitnesses and those who saw the CCTV recordings of the day, Ateeto was chased and forcibly arrested at the university.
Later in the month, another student called Mansour Ashraf was arrested by police at Ain Shams University, but he disappeared with no further knowledge of his whereabouts.
The arrests of students in the past two months have been regarded by the media as part of a wider campaign of abductions by the Ministry of Interior in Egypt. At least 163 people were forcibly disappeared and illegally held by security forces in May and June, according to local activist network Freedom for the Brave. Some of the disappeared individuals have appeared at prosecution days later, on charges of belonging to an illegal organisation and unlawfully calling for protests.
On 16 May, student Anas El-Mahdy died as a result of a brain haemorrhage sustained during clashes between security officers and students at Cairo University on 19 April. The students had been calling for the release of their colleagues detained on protesting-related charges. The protesters were believed to mainly be members of the Students Against the Coup (SAC) movement. Footage of the clashes shows violent scenes, with plainclothes men with weapons, including electric batons and knives, fighting alongside the campus security, and severely beating students.
El-Mahdy was transferred to Qasr El-Aini emergency hospital, and remained in a coma for 27 days until his death.
After the clashes in which El-Mahdy was initially injured, then-interior ministry spokesperson Major General Hany Abdel Latif said: “Brotherhood-affiliated students started rioting, and the administrative security interfered to stop them.”
He also suggested that the academic semester had been relatively stable due to the strong coordination between the university’s administrative security and police forces stationed outside the university.
Daily News Egypt tried to contact university president Gaber Nassar to comment on the safety of students at Cairo University, but without response.
On 10 June, a military court in Hikestep sentenced three students from Ain Shams University and one from Helwan University to 15 years in prison and a fine of EGP 36,000, AFTE reported. The students were arrested from outside Ain Shams University when police dispersed a demonstration, charging them with conducting violence, organising protest, blocking roads and obstructing transport.
During the past month, university administrations have also violated and unfairly treated students by suspending them or banning them from exams. Al-Azhar University suspended at least 30 students for political activities on campus.
In one case on 20 May documented in the report, a student at Alexandria University was informed on the day of an exam that he was “suspended” by the university’s president. AFTE reported that the charges on which he was supposedly suspended were for participating in a Muslim Brotherhood protest on 21 December 2014, but there was no investigation by the administration into the alleged charges.
Students have been banned from practicing politics on campus since early 2014, with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Universities forbidding campaigning during the presidential election of 2014. In September 2014, former minister of education Moheb El-Refaei outrightly banned political activity.