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Egypt issues arrest warrants for forcibly disappeared lawyers

Human Rights lawyer Ezzat Ghoneim [Twitter]
Human Rights lawyer Ezzat Ghoneim [Twitter]

Egypt has issued arrest warrants for two Egyptian lawyers, who are suspected to have been disappeared by government authorities since mid-September, for failing to adhere to the terms of their release, their lawyer has revealed.

Ezzat Ghoneim, a prominent rights lawyer and executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, and Azouz Mahgoub, have been missing since 14 September, when they were allegedly released from police custody. They had been arrested in March and added to Case 441/2018, joining a wave of journalists and human rights activists who face a plethora of charges, ranging from spreading false news to joining a terrorist organisation.

Although the exit paperwork was signed by Ghoneim and Mahgoub at Haram police station, with their families informed that they had been released from custody, both men have failed to surface. Their family members believe the two have been illegally detained by the National Security Agency.

“The family visited him there [at the police station] on a daily basis, and police officers told us they were just waiting for the green light from the NSA to release him.” Ghoneim’s brother, Mohammed, told reporters. He added that the family later confirmed through informal channels that Ghoneim and Mahgoub were both being held in the security agency’s Sheikh Zayed headquarters.

Ghoneim and Mahgoub’s lawyer says that he believes the men’s disappearance was intended to prompt their re-arrest for violating release orders, adding that he expects them to appear again soon.

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Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for Egypt to “immediately reveal” the whereabouts of Ghoneim, after having reportedly contacted the authorities on numerous occasions to get information about his disappearance.

“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.”

Before they were arrested, Ghoenim and Mahgoub had represented Muna Mahmoud Mohamed, who was also detained after appearing in a BBC documentary on enforced disappearances in which she recounted the repeated kidnapping and rape of her daughter, Zubeida Ibrahim.

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In the days after the BBC report was aired, a woman claiming to be Ibrahim appeared alongside Egyptian TV host Amr Adeeb on the Kol Youm show, claiming that she had not been abducted, but had secretly married and eloped with another man. Her mother was subsequently arrested and charged with spreading false news.

Egypt has regularly denied incidences of enforced disappearances, despite several NGOs pointing to the substantial evidence of state abductions. Earlier this year, Amnesty International condemned the escalating “human rights crisis” in the country in its annual World Report. It specifically mentioned the disappearances of hundreds of people on unknown charges.

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