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Hundreds of adults and children 'disappeared and tortured by Egyptian authorities'

A new report shows that hundreds of students, political activists and protesters have vanished.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/anucha maneechote

EGYPT’S NATIONAL SECURITY Agency (NSA) is abducting, torturing and forcibly disappearing people in an effort to intimidate opponents and wipe out peaceful dissent, according to a new Amnesty International report.

Egypt: Officially, you do not exist: Disappeared and tortured in the name of counter-terrorism highlights a spike in enforced disappearances since early 2015.

The report shows a trend which has seen hundreds of students, political activists and protesters, including children as young as 14, vanish without trace.

On average, three to four people per day are seized according to local NGOs, usually when heavily-armed security forces led by NSA officers storm their homes.

Amnesty said many of these people are held for months at a time and often kept blindfolded and handcuffed for the entire period.

Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said the report “reveals the shocking and ruthless tactics that the Egyptian authorities are prepared to employ in their efforts to terrify protesters and dissidents into silence.

Enforced disappearance has become a key instrument of state policy in Egypt. Anyone who dares to speak out is at risk, with counter-terrorism being used as an excuse to abduct, interrogate and torture people who challenge the authorities.

“The Egyptian authorities have repeatedly denied that enforced disappearances exist in the country, but the cases featured in this report provide strong evidence to the contrary,” O’Gorman said.

The report features details of 17 people subjected to enforced disappearance, who were held for periods ranging from several days to seven months.

Amnesty said these people were “cut off from the outside world and denied access to their lawyers, families or any independent judicial oversight”, as well as many being tortured – including children.

‘Horrendous abuse’

The report states that Mazen Mohamed Abdallah was subjected to enforced disappearance in September 2015, when he was just 14. He “suffered horrendous abuse including being repeatedly raped with a wooden stick in order to extract a false confession”.

The report continues:

Aser Mohamed, who was also 14 at the time of his arrest, was beaten, given electric shocks all over his body and suspended from his limbs in order to extract a false confession when he was forcibly disappeared for 34 days in January 2016.

Amnesty said he was eventually brought before a state security prosecutor who warned him that he would face further electric shocks when he tried to retract his ‘confessions’.

The two boys are among five children forcibly disappeared for up to 50 days whose cases are documented in the report. In some situations, even after the child’s release was ordered by the public prosecutor, the report states that security forces would subject them to enforced disappearance for a second time before bringing fresh charges against them.

hosni Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Source: Amr Nabil/AP/Press Association Images

In other cases, family members were arrested in order to pressure the principal target into giving a forced confession.

In July 2015, Atef Farag was arrested alongside his 22-year-old son, Yehia. Their family believe Atef was arrested for participating in a sit-in and his son, who has a disability, was arrested to pressure him to ‘confess’ to serious offences. Both were held for 159 days and now have been charged with belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

The report notes that there has been a spike in the use of enforced disappearances in Egypt since Magdy Abd el-Ghaffar was appointed Minister of Interior in March 2015.

He previously served in the State Security Investigations (SSI), the secret police force known for human rights violations under former president Hosni Mubarak’s rule, which was dismantled after the 2011 uprising and renamed as the NSA.

Trade links 

O’Gorman said Egypt is “regarded by many Western powers as a key counter-terrorism partner in the region and many states have used this justification to supply Egypt with arms and related equipment despite evidence of its use to commit serious human rights violations”.

He noted that many countries “continue to maintain close diplomatic, trade and other ties with the country without prioritising human rights”.

O’Gorman called on all states, particularly EU member states and the USA, to “use their influence to pressure Egypt to end these appalling violations, which are being committed under the false pretext of security and counter-terrorism”.

“Instead of continuing to blindly supply security and police equipment to Egypt they should cease all transfers of arms and equipment that have been used to commit serious human rights violations in Egypt until effective safeguards against misuse are established, thorough and independent investigations are conducted and those responsible are brought to justice,” he added.

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Órla Ryan

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