Instead of protecting its citizens from torture and forced disappearances, the Egyptian government prefers to criticize and attack groups calling for investigations.
Human Rights Watch published evidence several weeks ago which suggested that Egyptian security forces forcibly disappeared New York taxi driver Khaled Hassan, an American-Egyptian dual citizen, and tortured him earlier this year. Yet instead of supporting our call for the government to investigate – or even expressing concern – Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS) turned on the messenger. Egypt’s government flat-out denied any wrongdoing and continued its attempts to undermine the work of Human Rights Watch and other rights groups.
Egypt’s National Security Agency disappeared Hassan in January, yet only presented him to prosecutors in May. In the intervening months, Hassan said, officers beat him, subjected him to prolonged stress positions, tortured him with electric shocks, and raped him twice. Forensic experts who reviewed photos of his wounds confirmed they were consistent with his allegations of torture.
During his disappearance, Hassan’s family received no information on his whereabouts, despite filing many complaints with the Egyptian authorities.
In another case, Human Rights Watch asked the SIS for information about the disappeared Egyptian human rights lawyer, Ezzat Ghoniem.
Ghoniem was in pretrial detention for months until a judge ordered him released on September 4 – on the condition that he report regularly to a police station. Instead of releasing him, police moved Ghoniem from prison to a police station where he vanished into incommunicado detention. The SIS never bothered to respond to Human Rights Watch’s questions about him.
These are just two examples in hundreds of reported cases of torture and disappearance in Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government.
Torture and enforced disappearance are crimes under international and Egyptian law. While Egypt’s administrative courts have ordered compensation to hundreds of victims tortured by Egyptian officials, which represent an official admission that torture is pervasive, nevertheless the government continues to use blanket denials or at best says torture crimes are “isolated incidents.” Very few officers have been convicted and no single member of the National Security Agency, the body overseeing the most flagrant abuses, has received a guilty verdict in recent decades.
Egyptian officials say they want to protect the country against unlawful and violent groups. But by disappearing and torturing suspects and political dissidents, the government dismantles the rule of law, and it is not clear how this make citizens more secure.
Instead of making inflammatory statements against those who criticize the government, Egyptian authorities and the SIS should engage meaningfully with rights groups, allow them to work freely in the country, and hold perpetrators of torture to account.