Egyptian human rights lawyer “forcibly disappeared”


An international rights group accused Egyptian authorities of “forcibly disappearing” a prominent human rights lawyer due to be released from prison last month but whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement Ezzat Ghoneim, head of the independent Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), was last seen by his wife on September 13 at a police station south of Cairo.

An interior ministry official could not immediately be reached to comment on the report. Egypt denies any rights abuses and says its security forces focus on fighting militants plotting to undermine the country’s stability.

Ghoneim’s lawyer, Halem Henish, told Reuters his client was detained in March for investigation into allegations including joining an illegal organisation and helping a mother speak to foreign media about her daughter’s alleged forced disappearance, a charge he denied.
“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 HRW.

A judge ordered Ghoneim freed on September 4 on condition he reports to a police station twice a week.

Authorities moved him on September 8 to a police station near the pyramids, where his wife was able to visit him regularly, his lawyer said, before he disappeared on September 13.

Since coming to power in 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presided over a crackdown on Islamist opponents and liberal activists, which rights groups say is the worst in modern Egyptian history.

Sisi supporters maintain he is trying to combat an Islamist insurgency and restore order following years of chaos after Arab Spring demonstrations forced Hosni Mubarak to step down in 2011.