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Egypt 'disappears' former student leader, prompting calls for probe

Moaz al-Sharqawi's whereabouts unknown to family and lawyers after being taken by authorities from his Cairo home last week
Moaz al-Sharqawi was taken by Egyptian authorities from his residence in the Mokattam neighbourhood of the Egyptian capital (Screengrab)
Moaz al-Sharqawi was taken by Egyptian authorities from his residence in the Mokattam neighbourhood of the Egyptian capital (Screengrab)

Egyptian security forces forcibly disappeared a former student leader from his home in Cairo last week, according to his legal representatives, prompting calls by rights groups and his family for an investigation and news on his whereabouts. 

Moaz al-Sharqawi was taken by authorities from his residence in the Mokattam neighbourhood of the Egyptian capital on 11 May.

His location remains unknown to his family and lawyers, who have not been able to communicate with him, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), which is legally representing Sharqawi. 

His lawyers said they confirmed that he was not at Mokattam police station or the local prosecutor's office. 

On Wednesdsay, the EIPR wrote to the public prosecutor's office accusing the interior ministry of forcibly disappearing him. 

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Several rights groups signed a letter this week calling for Sharqawi's immediate release, along with other political prisoners. 

"His abduction and disappearance represent a grave danger to his life and safety, and further indicates the absence of political will in Egypt to guarantee human rights for all," they wrote. 

The signatories included the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms and El Nadeem Centre.

Target for detention

Sharqawi has been imprisoned before due to his role as a leader at the student union of Tanta University.

He was arrested in September 2018 and subjected to 25 days of enforced disappearance, during which he was tortured, according to EIPR. 

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The former student was held in pre-trial detention for around a year-and-a-half, before being released in 2020. 

In May 2022, he was issued a 10-year prison sentence on charges of joining a terrorist group, in a case in which several other political detainees were also sentenced.

Among them was Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, a former presidential candidate. 

EIPR said that Sharqawi's sentence was "not final or enforcable", and a grievance sent by lawyers to the military governor was still under consideration.

In August, the UN working group on enforced disappeararances wrote a memorandum to the Egyptian government raising Sharqawi's case. 

Egypt regularly uses accusations of support or financing of "terrorism" to hold activists and opposition figures for as long as possible in pre-trial detention, and to subsequently sentence them. 

At least 60,000 political prisoners are estimated to have been jailed since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi overthrew Mohamed Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president, and took power in 2013.

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