Egypt must “immediately reveal” the whereabouts of prominent human rights defender and lawyer, Ezzat Ghoneim, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday.
Ghoneim has been in custody since March and his release was ordered by a court on 4 September, however, his whereabouts remain unknown.
“Forcibly disappearing a lawyer in the face of a judge’s order explicitly authorising his release reflects Egyptian security forces’ contempt for the rule of law,” HRW’s Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa, Michael Page, said.
“The Egyptian authorities should immediately reveal Ghoneim’s whereabouts, set him free, and investigate and punish those who disappeared him,” Page demanded.
When authorities view human rights lawyers as a threat rather than an asset to the rule of law and democracy, the government’s claims that they are improving rights are hollow and not worth the paper they’re printed on.
The rights organisation pointed out that it had contacted Egyptian authorities several times since 24 September to enquire about Ghoneim, explaining that the State Information Service, a governmental agency dealing with foreign correspondents, informed them that “it was going to send a written response. HRW has received no responses yet.”
Ghoneim was arrested on 1 March by members of the National Security Agency officers, affiliated to the country’s interior ministry, as he was heading home from work. At first, the national forces refused to reveal his whereabouts for three days until some lawyers reported seeing him at the headquarters of the Supreme State Security Prosecution in Cairo, where they learnt that Ghoneim was interrogated by prosecutors without a lawyer. Ghoneim was then sent to pretrial detention.
State security prosecutors questioned Ghoneim as a defendant in state security Case 441 of 2018, in which a blogger, three journalists and a doctoral student, together with him were accused of publishing false news and of “supporting a Muslim brotherhood group”. HRW has also highlighted that the case is one of many cases in which authorities “have wrongfully used emergency and terrorism laws to bring terrorism charges against peaceful activists.”
According to an Egyptian independent campaign dubbed “Stop Enforced Disappearance” local authorities disappeared at least 230 people from August 2017 to August 2018. The campaign added that the practice has been increasingly used to target journalists and rights activists in Egypt.