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Egypt disappears up to 4 people a day in attempt to 'wipe out dissent': Amnesty

New report calls on Egypt's allies to halt arms transfers amid 'spike' in number of enforced disappearances
Egyptian armed police on patrol in the capital Cairo (AFP)

Children as young as 14 have disappeared without a trace in Egypt as the government attempts to “wipe out dissent,” according to a new report by Amnesty International. 

State forces abduct three to four people per day on average, local NGOs told the global rights monitor in the report, entitled “Egypt: Officially you do not exist”.

The report singles out Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar, who became interior minister in March 2015 after previous stints in the State Security Investigations, the now-disbanded agency that was known for its systematic use of torture under deposed president Hosni Mubarak.

Since Ghaffar assumed his position at the head of the Interior Ministry, the report says, there has been a “visible spike” in the numbers of enforced disappearances. 

In one of the 17 cases documented by the report, 14-year-old Mazen Mohammed Abdallah was forcibly disappeared from his family home in Cairo in September 2015.

He told researchers that he was repeatedly raped with wooden sticks by interrogators eager to extract a false confession. 

Egypt's Interior Ministry has previously rejected Abdallah's testimony, after Amnesty documented his case in December 2015, saying that the 14-year-old had “participated with others in Muslim Brotherhood operations including attacking state installations and setting fire to police cars”.

Abdallah is one of five children disappeared for up to 50 days whose testimonies are included in the report.

In another case highlighted by Amnesty, 14-year-old Aser Mohamed was arrested in an early-morning raid on his Cairo home on 6 June. Officers said they wanted to take Aser for questioning and promised to return him within a few hours, but failed to do so. His family did not have any information about him for the next 34 days, during which time they "made frantic efforts to locate him," according to the report.

When he was finally allowed to see his family, he told them he had been tortured by electric shock and was forced to make a false confession involving a January attack at a hotel in Giza. He was still being held in custody as of 1 July, the Amnesty report says.

14-year-old Aser Mohamed (Sara Hashash/Amnesty International)

“This 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,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

“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.”

According to the report, the security agency's campaign of enforced disappearance – which targets students, political activists and protesters – is supported by the “collusion and deceit” of Egypt's Public Prosecution.

It accuses the prosecutor of accepting “questionable” evidence put forward by the National Security Agency – the body allegedly responsible for the campaign of enforced disappearances - and of failing to investigate claims of torture. 

“On the rare occasions where detainees were referred by Public Prosecutors to an independent medical examination their lawyers were not permitted to see the results,” the report notes. 

Egypt has blasted previous negative reports by Amnesty as “false claims” and “inaccurate lies,” while local NGOs say they face impossible restrictions on their work. 

Call for end to arms sales

A crackdown on dissent since a popular-backed military coup led by then-army chief, now-president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013 has seen tens of thousands of opponents from across the political spectrum imprisoned, with many facing charges under a controversial law that bans any protests that take place without prior police permission. 

The report accuses Egypt of using its struggle to counter a militant insurgency in its restive Sinai Peninsula – where militants claiming allegiance to Islamic State (IS) group have launched a bloody wave of assassinations and killings – as a pretext for cracking down on peaceful anti-government activists.

Egypt is considered a key regional partner in the struggle against IS and like-minded groups by Western allies, who have continued to supply its large armed forces since the military takeover, despite concern over the government's human rights record.

Earlier this month the Italian parliament voted to cancel sales of spare fighter jet parts to Egypt over the disappearance and murder of an Italian student, Giulio Regeni, whose body was discovered dumped by the side of a road in February bearing marks of horrendous torture.

The bill, known as the Regeni Amendment, had faced fierce opposition from Italian senators who highlighted Egypt's key role in regional counter-extremism efforts.

“The decision to deny spare parts for fighter jets used against IS is an absurdity,” said Senator Maurizio Gasparri of the right-wing National Alliance.

“[Prime Minister Matteo] Renzi makes declarations against terrorism ... and then boycotts countries that are on the front line against those who sow terror.”

The Amnesty report, which notes that many Egyptians known to have died under torture suffered injuries similar to those found on Regeni's body, calls on Egypt's allies to cease all arms transfers to the country.

“All states, particularly EU member states and the USA, must use their influence to pressure Egypt to end these appalling violations, which are being committed under the false pretext of security and counter-terrorism,” said Philip Luther.

“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.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.