Amnesty International released a report on Wednesday entitled “Officially, you do not exist” in which the organisation documented cases of enforced disappearances in Egypt and accused Egyptian authorities of torturing disappeared individuals.
In response to the claims in the report, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry released a statement on Wednesday saying that it will not comment on the report because Amnesty is motivated by political opinions.
“The organisation is not impartial. Distorting Egypt’s image is in its personal interests,” the statement read, adding that anyone who read the report will promptly know that the organisation is biased, tackling issues from only one point of view and talking with people who are hostile towards Egypt. It also added that Egypt does not welcome any reports from the “biased organisation”.
The report released by the organisation listed several cases of forced disappearances. This is not the first international report that points out such cases in Egypt; however, the authorities continue their denial. The authorities once accused Amnesty International of spreading false rumours and supporting terrorist groups.
The scale of Egypt’s enforced disappearance phenomena
Amnesty International did not specify the precise number of people who have been forcibly disappeared over the past two years, stating that these cases are hard to document due to the secrecy surrounding them and families or relatives’ fear of speaking out to lawyers or NGOs without jeopardising the safety of the abducted.
Amnesty has, however, through the documentation of NGOs and rights groups, found that at least several hundred have forcibly disappeared since the beginning of 2015.
The report included documentation from local and international organisations. According to Freedom for the Brave, there were 163 cases of forced disappearances in April and May 2015 alone. The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms reported in April 2016 that it has documented 544 cases of enforced disappearances in an eight-month period. Among other reports documenting the number of cases, there were also testimonies from those who were released following their disappearance.
Enforced disappearance conditions
Three core elements must be available in a missing persons case in order for it to be considered enforced disappearance, according to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). Firstly, there should be an arrest, abduction, or any other form of liberty deprivation. Next, the party who conducts the arrest should be authorised by security agencies, including the Interior Ministry or General Intelligence Directorate (Al-Mukhabarat in Egypt). The last condition is the accused party’s refusal to acknowledge the arrest and denial of any knowledge regarding the missing person’s whereabouts. This places the detained person outside the protection of law.
Egyptian NGOs have their own set of three main elements that classify enforced disappearances. These are abduction by state agents, holding of the abducted person in an undisclosed location for a period exceeding 48 hours without referral to the public prosecutor, and denial of the person ever being in their custody.
The report added that the disappearance itself is not necessarily violent; however, disappearance is usually accompanied by physical and psychological torture. Some families have to wait years before knowing the fate of the abducted person.
Egypt is targeting specific groups
The report further stated that enforced disappearances in Egypt target specific groups. The majority of those subjected to enforced disappearances are from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Other cases are often targeted at political activists, students, academics, protesters, and peaceful critics.
What happens to those abducted? “Officially, you don’t exist”
In the cases known to Amnesty International, those subjected to enforced disappearance were held from periods ranging from four days to seven months. They are usually held in police stations, central security force camps, or National Security Agency offices. In cases when someone disappears for a long period, they are assumed to be on agency premises.
National Security Agency offices are not official places for detention because no prosecutor or judge has the authority to inspect an agency office. According to Egyptian law, it is prohibited to hold detainees in places where the judiciary has no access to them. Amnesty International only knew the whereabouts of the forcibly disappeared individuals after talking with other detainees who were later released and reported their whereabouts.
According to the report, Lazoughly National Security Agency office, located inside the Ministry of Interior headquarters, is the most common, and the most notorious, place for holding detained individuals, according to former detainees.
Amnesty documented several cases of enforced disappearances
The report included several enforced disappearance cases, detailing the circumstances under which they disappeared and the continuous denial by security agencies regarding their whereabouts. Among the forcibly disappeared cases in the report were several cases of disappeared children.
“It seems that you want another dose of electric shock treatment”
According to families’ testimonies, the aforementioned quote was said by a public prosecution officer to a 14-year-old child. The report documented that children have been subjected to rape, sexual violence, and electrical shocks applied to their genitals following enforced disappearances.
Authorities are involved despite continued denials
Over the past two years, reports of enforced disappearances in Egypt have been on the rise, with no precise number on the amount of instances. Local rights groups have said that thousands have been subjected to enforced disappearances.
Despite continuous denials by the Ministry of Interior and other security agencies that this phenomena exists in Egypt, accusations continue to flow. The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) documented cases of enforced disappearances in a report released earlier this month. However, the report said that the thousands of enforced disappearance cases documented by NGOs are exaggerated.