Despite an Egyptian court releasing Ezzat Ghoneim over two weeks ago the human rights lawyer and director of the NGO Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms has been missing for 16 days.
Ghoneim’s ordeal began in March this year when State Security Prosecution issued a 15-day detention order against him pending further investigations into undisclosed charges. He was subsequently detained at Tora prison for six months.
The recent court order stipulated he should be released on the condition that he report to the police station every day. According to normal practice detainees are transferred from prison to the police station where they undergo various bureaucratic procedures before being released after a maximum of six days.
However, six days ago Ghoneim’s wife went to the police station where she had been visiting her husband every day. They told her he had been released but his family can’t find him anywhere. It is believed that he is being held incommunicado within state custody.
Fears are growing that the lawyer of Um Zubeida, the woman who spoke to the BBC about the forced disappearance of her daughter, has met the same fate. Azuz Mahbouh was released under condition at the same time as Ghoneim but is also missing.
Disappearing detainees beyond their release is a common tactic used by Egyptian police to further punish activists and lawyers because they can’t stop court orders. In April the son of a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader in Egypt, Anas El-Beltagy, was disappeared by police despite being found not guilty by a court of charges of inciting violence.
This may indicate a division between the court and the security services and highlight that the police are more answerable to strongman Abdul Fattah Sisi than the court are. It could also be that the court want to give the impression to the international community that they are following correct procedure; however, comparing how rights activists like Ghoneim are treated with members of the deep state tells a different story.
Several days ago the sons of former President Hosni Mubarak, Alaa and Gamal, were taken to court on the accusation that they had interfered with the stock market to generate unlawful profits. On the same day their lawyer filed an appeal against the judge on the grounds that he had something against them. For most people in Egypt this is a process that would take several weeks but in 24 hours they were released on $559 bail, transferred to a local police station and then released.
After the 2011 uprising Alaa and Gamal were detained on charges of corruption and abuse of authority but were released shortly afterwards. In March 2017 Hosni Mubarak was acquitted on charges of killing protesters during the Arab Spring protests.