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Enforced Disappearances: a police-state tool for wiping out opponents in Egypt

February 24, 2022 at 2:15 pm

Mostafa Al-Nagar, a former Egyptian MP who has been missing for months [Twitter]

More than three years have elapsed since the Egyptian politician and former parliamentarian, Mostafa Alnajjar disappeared. Alnajjar is a dentist and the former Head of the Justice Party.  He travelled to the southern Egyptian governorate of Aswan on 27 September 2018. Since then, his whereabouts and fate remain unknown.

On 11 April, 2019, Yehia, a 24-year-old Egyptian, planned to visit one of his sick friends in a hospital in Maadi, in southern Cairo. Yehia phoned to confirm he was only five minutes away, just a few minutes before his arrival. However, Yehia never showed up. The hours passed; his family became anxious, his cell phone was disconnected, and he was reported missing, two days later.

“All I wanted to know was whether my son was dead or alive,” said the Father of a victim of Enforced Disappearance to Amnesty. It was not until November that the family learned of Yehia’s whereabouts. That month, the police raided the house of the young man’s father, who was transferred to an unofficial detention centre in Cairo, where he was detained for 11 days, according to his surroundings. His son was found right in the same place, as chance would have it. During that brief period, Yehia explained to him that he had been arrested in the middle of the street on that day in mid-April and vanished from the police station.

Alnajjar, Yehia, and tens of thousands of stories have become an everyday routine in Egypt wherein four people of a political background disappear every day, on average. The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms reported that a number of total 3,029 until August 2021 disappeared.

Enforced Disappearance has turned into a phenomenon since it is no longer confined to reported cases. It has become a systematic and continuous policy used by the police to wipe opponents off existence. Opponents, officially, ‘do not exist’ – disappeared and tortured in the name of counter-terrorism, to quote from AMNESTY.

“Since snatching power in 2013, the President has authorised Enforced Disappearances to terrify opponents.” (Al-Monitor)

READ: Violence against women is endemic in Egypt; it must be challenged and stopped

Brutal Torture 

The horrific circumstances surrounding the opponent’s Enforced Disappearance show the police State abuse of pre-trial detention to keep thousands of men and women in jail on unfounded terrorism charges for months, or even years.

In interviews with Amnesty International, many of these detainees, including children, stated that they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment by National Security officers to coerce them to “confess” crimes. Although these “confessions” were subsequently used as justification to extend their pre-trial detention, they were also used as evidence of guilt during the trial.

The National Security Sector filmed many detainees’ “confessions” to broadcasting through media to convince the Egyptians and the international community that the Muslim Brotherhood supporters of Mohamed Morsi are engaged in “terrorism”, and that the security forces are combating this “terror” in an active manner. Moreover, prosecutors continue to rely mainly on “confessions” that security officers obtain from detainees during their Enforced Disappearance, even when detainees recant and claim that they were forced to give such confessions as a result of torture.

Among the torture methods mentioned by some victims and witnesses are electric shocks on the body and sensitive areas, such as the genitals, lips and ears, while suspending the detainee from his limbs for long periods, while being naked and handcuffed.

“When he was arrested, they took him to a police station. The next morning, he was moved to a National Security facility. During the first two days of his interrogation, officers used electric shocks on his genitals, head and tongue. On the third day, they suspended him by his arms, which dislocated his shoulders. He was left in a corridor for three days. It was winter, and he was on the floor with no covers. Then he recalls going many floors underground to a cell. Another detainee in his cell happened to be a doctor. Soldiers agreed to bring an antibiotic and medicine, and the doctor fixed his shoulders.” (‘Security Forces’ Abuse of Children’ report by HRW)

Sexual abuse, including rape, is a routine, mixed with beating and threat. In addition, some detainees said that they were subjected to the method of torture known as “the grill”, in which the detainee is rotated on a rod that is passed between his hands and his feet while they are handcuffed, and the rod suspended between two chairs, while being given electric shocks on the legs. It should be noted that most of these methods are identical or similar to those of the State Security Investigations that used them with detainees during the Mubarak years.

“These egregious violations by security forces, yet again, illustrate the devastating effects of the prevailing climate of impunity in Egypt,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

According to the committee for justice, 101 deaths were monitored in detention centres during the year 2020 alone. The accidents included:

  • Deaths due to deprivation of medical care (89 deaths).
  • Deaths due to poor conditions of detention (6 deaths).
  • Deaths as a result of the denial of medical care.
  • Deaths due to torture, and one case tried to take his life.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.