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Fears grow for 19 missing human rights activists in Egypt

Egyptian security forces entered the apartment of 60-year-old Hoda Abdelmonem, legal advisor to the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECFR), and trashed her belongings

In the early hours of Thursday morning Egyptian security forces entered the apartment of 60-year-old Hoda Abdelmonem, legal advisor to the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECFR), and trashed her belongings.

The photos widely circulated online portray overturned cupboards with her books, papers and personal items cast across the floor.

As a prominent lawyer Hoda took the same route to her office every day and appeared regularly in court which means that if authorities wanted to arrest her they could do so easily without coming to her house.

“They wanted to send a message,” says Ahmed El-Attar, a London based human rights activist – if you speak out against the government, this is what will happen to you.

Read: Egypt arrests prominent cleric, say activists

Hoda was one of 19 human rights activists – eight women and 11 men – swept up that day as the regime already well known for its mass trials, torture and vast dissemination of the death penalty escalated pressure on human rights NGOs.

Four days later the location and fate of these activists is still unknown. One of the organisations hit hard by this crackdown is the ECFR, which documents enforced disappearances and the expanding use of the death penalty.

Lawyer and former spokesperson for the ECFR was arrested in the same pre-dawn raids as Hoda, along with his wife Aisha Shatr.

A number of prominent members of the group have been targeted. In September, Executive Director of ECFR, Ezzat Ghoneim, was forcibly disappeared despite being released from Tora prison after serving a six-month prison sentence there.

Read: Egypt issues arrest warrants for forcibly disappeared lawyers

In October Egyptian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Ghoneim for failing to adhere to the terms of his release despite the fact that his family say he is still being held in secret detention.

Along with Ghoneim the group’s co-founder Azzouz Mahgoub was also forcibly disappeared in March.

Last Thursday the ECFR announced the suspension of its work citing the current climate in Egypt as “incompatible with human rights work”.

The human rights situation in Egypt, especially with regard to the rights of detainees and human rights defenders, has been the worst in Egypt’s history in the past five years

ECFR said in a statement.

“Furthermore, the Egyptian authorities have committed the most serious violations beyond all humanitarian norms including the storming of women’s homes, their detention and the arrest of their families over the past three months alone.”

The organisation called for an end to “unjust practices” in order to “protect Egypt from the consequences of violence and tyranny” and urged the Egyptian government to release all activists, human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience.

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