Rights group says Egypt 'forcibly disappeared' lawyer


An international rights group on Wednesday urged Egypt to reveal the whereabouts of a well-known human rights lawyer who went missing after being detained.

An Egyptian court ordered the release of Ezzat Ghoneim and another lawyer, Azzoz Mahgoub, on September 4, pending investigations, but the two have not been seen or heard from since September 13.

Egyptian police have "forcibly disappeared" Ghoneim, who has been held since March on charges of plotting against the government, Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

The New York-based watchdog quoted Ghoneim's wife, Rasha, as saying that she last saw her husband in custody at al-Haram police station, south of Cairo, on September 13.

Ghoneim's family and friends have been unable to contact him, and the authorities have refused to provide any information on his status or whereabouts, the rights group said.

"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," 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."

Egypt's Interior Ministry did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Ghoneim's whereabouts.

Ghoneim heads the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, an independent group. Ahmed el-Attar, a spokesperson for the group, said last month that the families of Ghoneim and Mahgoub tried to visit them but were told they had already been released. Amnesty International said at the time that the two had been forcibly disappeared and were at great risk of torture.

Both Ghoneim and Mahgoub supported victims of alleged police torture, the disappeared and their families in Egypt.

The government has waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent since the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013. Thousands have been arrested, with many held for months or years without charge.

Human Rights Watch, citing figures from independent Egyptian rights campaigners, said authorities have disappeared at least 230 people since August 2017 and are increasingly targeting journalists and rights activists.

The most prominent case is that of Ibrahim Metwally, who was detained at the Cairo airport on his way to a UN conference on forced disappearances in September 2017. Authorities only acknowledged his arrest days later, accusing him of spreading fake news.

Metwally, whose own son disappeared at a protest in 2013, was providing legal assistance to the family of Giulio Regeni, an Italian graduate student who was abducted and tortured to death in 2016. Authorities have denied any role in Regeni's abduction or death, but activists say it bore the hallmarks of police brutality.

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