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CONTACT: Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Egypt: Disclose Fate of ‘Disappeared' Student
Reveal Whereabouts of Youth and Prosecute Those Responsible
CAIRO - September 3 - Egyptian authorities should immediately disclose the fate and whereabouts of Mohamed Saad Tork, who disappeared in July 2009 with strong indications that he was being held by the authorities, and prosecute those responsible, Human Rights Watch said today. Tork's case highlights the continuing practice of enforced disappearances by Egypt's State Security Investigations agency.
"The brutal practice of ‘disappearing' people is a terrible blight on Egypt's human rights record," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Authorities should immediately reveal Mohamed Tork's whereabouts and prosecute those responsible for his disappearance."
On July 26, 2009, Tork, a 23-year-old second-year dentistry student at Alexandria University, told his family he was going for a walk. When they had heard nothing more from him for 48 hours, his family filed a missing person report at the Rashid police station, in the Beheira governorate. Five days later, Mohamed's father, Saad Tork, received a summons from the head of the police station's criminal investigations division.
"I went to the police station and the officer in charge asked me if Mohamed was ok or had health problems," Saad Tork told Human Rights Watch. "I explained that he'd had depression and was taking medication. The officer went on to ask me exactly what medication he was taking, what the dose was and who his doctor was. He then relayed all this information over the phone to another person.
"A week after that I went to the Damanhour State Security offices, and the guards told me that Mohamed had been moved to Rashid. When I went to the Rashid office, they told me they didn't know anything about him and that I was not to come back."
The family sent complaints to the Interior Ministry, public prosecutor and other government offices. After a year without any response, in July 2010, the family decided to take the case to human rights organizations and to publicize it to the media.
The Association for Human Rights Legal Aid and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information filed a disappearance complaint before the Office of the Public Prosecutor on August 8, 2010. Gamal Eid, the lawyer who filed the complaint, told Human Rights Watch that the prosecution said it was still investigating the complaint and had made inquiries to the State Security Investigations agency (SSI), the internal security branch of the Interior Ministry.
Tork's family said they are not aware of any reason why SSI would want to detain him. The agency had summoned him to its Rashid office in April 2009, and questioned him about his university activities, in particular his participation in a demonstration at the university at the time of the Gaza war a few months earlier. They released him after an hour, the family said.
The long silence about Tork's whereabouts raises serious concerns about his well-being, Human Rights Watch said. State Security detention is frequently incommunicado, but usually lasts for about two months.
"The extreme anguish inflicted on relatives of the disappeared who have to deal with the pain of not knowing the fate of their loved one makes the family direct victims of the violation as well," Stork said. "Mohamed Tork's family have a right to know where he is and in what condition."
State Security incommunicado detention, which can amount to enforced disappearance, is common for political detainees. The agency routinely detains suspects in high-profile cases before bringing them to the state security prosecutor to face official charges.
In 2009, the agency held incommunicado for up to two months 25 men accused of membership in a terrorist organization in connection with a robbery in Cairo's Zeitoun district and alleged plans to attack Suez Canal shipping. In February 2009, the SSI detained a blogger, Diaa Eddin Gad, for 50 days before releasing him without charge. Gad was among a number of bloggers and activists arrested in relation to protests over the Gaza war, in December 2008 and January 2009. More recently, on March 25, the SSI detained Tarek Khedr, a member of the April 6 youth activist group, for 80 days.
Incommunicado detention and enforced disappearance are illegal under Egyptian law, which stipulates that police must bring detainees before a prosecutor within 24 hours. The only legal places of detention under Egyptian law are police stations and prisons, both of which are subject to visits by the prosecution. Detention in State Security offices and without a prosecutor's detention order is illegal under both Egyptian and international law.
As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Egypt has an obligation to provide an accessible, effective, and enforceable remedy - including justice, truth, and adequate reparations - after a disappearance violation has occurred. Under international law, victims and their families have a right to know the truth about violations they suffered. On March 12, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that under international law, "The right to the truth implies knowing the full and complete truth about events that transpired ... In cases of enforced disappearance and missing persons, the right also implies the right to know the fate and whereabouts of the victim."
In December 2006, the UN opened for signature the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The convention defines the grave and serious violation of human rights of an enforced disappearance as "the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law."
So far, 83 states have signed the convention and in August, Paraguay became the 19th state to ratify it. One more ratification is needed for the convention to come into force. Egypt has not signed the convention.
"This week millions of families around the world marked International Day of the Disappeared," Stork said. "The Egyptian government should sign and ratify the convention to signal that it will end this practice."