The son of a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader in Egypt, Anas El-Beltagy, has disappeared despite being found not guilty of charges of inciting violence.
El-Beltagy’s ordeal began on 31 December 2013 when he was arrested at a friend’s house and tortured for a month at Nasr City police station. From here he was moved to Abu Zaabal prison where he was put in solitary confinement. Anything he ate or drank was smuggled to him and anyone found to be helping him was punished.
From here he was moved to two different prisons and held in cells measuring one by two metres. Detainees kept in Egyptian prisons have often described the dire conditions inside where they are regularly tortured, not given enough food to eat and denied medical treatment.
During his years spent incarcerated a number of charges were levelled at him – involvement in the Al Jazeera case in which three journalists were accused of airing “fake news”, beating prison guards at Scorpion prison and taking part in illegal demonstrations.
It took four and half years for a Cairo court to find El-Beltagy not guilty – by this time he was 25 years old and had already wasted precious years of his life. Still, with the charges cleared his family expected to see him within a month. But before this could happen El-Beltagy disappeared.
This may indicate a division between the judiciary in Egypt and the security service’s agenda, says Ahmed El-Attar, a human rights researcher for the Egyptian Coordination of Rights and Freedom: “Not all judges are corrupt; some are still honest and fair.”
Fears are growing among family, friends and human rights organisations that El-Beltagy is being held in the notorious National Security Headquarters. “This is the place you think that if you go there you will never come out,” says El-Attar.
During the 2011 revolution protesters raided the headquarters and searched for secret detention rooms upon hearing that authorities were shredding documents to destroy evidence on human rights abuses. But dreams that the feared security services would be dismantled have been quashed under President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi as police and national security officers are torturing thousands with impunity.
Observers believe security forces are punishing El-Beltagy and his siblings for the position of his father Mohammed El-Beltagy, a senior leader within the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.
At the end of August 2013 Mohammed was arrested on charges of terrorism and detained alongside most of the group’s top leaders. As political prisoners their treatment is likely to have been grim – a Swiss human rights group has warned that former President Mohammed Morsi will die if he continues to be subject to medical negligence in prison.
During the 2013 Rabaa protests, where demonstrators gathered to oppose Al-Sisi’s coup against the country’s first freely elected president Morsi, El-Beltagy’s sister Asma was on her way to help at the makeshift field hospital when she was shot by a sniper and later died from her wounds.
Their mother Sanaa now lives in Turkey with her other son Khaled, who was also arrested in 2015 when he was 16-years-old, disappeared and then eventually released. Sanaa is appealing to the Egyptian government to release her son, and not to kill him.