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Egyptian human rights campaigner missing after release from jail

Human Rights Watch believes lawyer Ezzat Ghonim, held in police custody since March, has been 'forcibly disappeared'
Ezzat Ghonim, a human rights lawyer, has been missing in Cairo since 13 September (Twitter).

A prominent Egyptian human rights campaigner has been missing in Cairo for nearly a month despite being released from police detention by a court order, his colleague told Middle East Eye.

Ezzat Ghonim, 41, is the executive director of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), an independent rights group, and a well-known human rights lawyer.

He was arrested on 1 March, held in pre-trial detention, then was later accused of spreading false news and supporting a terrorist group.

The case, known as no. 441, involved eight other defendants, mostly journalists, and a prominent blogger, Wael Abbas, who remains in detention.

On 4 September, the court released Ghonim pending further investigations. He was held at the Haram police headquarters in the Giza governorate until 13 September.

Forcibly disappearing a lawyer in the face of a judge’s order explicitly authorizing his release reflects Egyptian security forces’ contempt for the rule of law

- Michael Page, Human Rights Watch

According to Ahmed El Attar, a London-based researcher at the ECRF, on 14 September, when his wife went to visit him, she was told that he had been released. His whereabouts since are unknown.

Human Rights Watch said Ghonim had been “forcibly disappeared” by Egyptian police.

“Forcibly disappearing a lawyer in the face of a judge’s order explicitly authorising his release reflects Egyptian security forces’ contempt for the rule of law,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Egyptian authorities should immediately reveal Ghoneim’s whereabouts, set him free, and investigate and punish those who disappeared him.”

Last week, a panel of UN human rights experts condemned the “systematic targeting” of human rights defenders in Egypt. It said that the Egyptian government suppresses dissent “under the pretext of countering terrorism".

Egyptian authorities are suspected of disappearing at least 1,520 people since 2013, according to the “Stop Enforced Disappearance” independent campaign. The UN has documented 258 cases of disappearance in the 12 months to May 2018.

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