Egypt's rights council urges prosecutors to probe alleged forced disappearance

Authorities say economist Ayman Hadhoud died of cardiac arrest while detained in a psychiatric hospital for observation

This picture taken on October 23, 2019 from the Cairo Tower in the centre of the Egyptian capital shows a view of the Nile river flowing through the city between the central downtown (R) and Zamalek (L) districts. (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

Egypt's state-appointed human rights council said it was closely monitoring an investigation by prosecutors into the death in detention of an economic researcher.

The council said it wanted them to establish whether Ayman Hadhoud was a victim of forced disappearance.

An Interior Ministry statement said the researcher was arrested on February 6 for attempting to break into an apartment in the Cairo district of Zamalek. He was referred by prosecutors to a psychiatric hospital for observation following his “irresponsible” behaviour while in detention, said the ministry, which oversees the police and domestic security agencies.

It denied allegations it said were made on social media pages linked to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group that it was a case of forced disappearance.

On Monday night, the National Council for Human Rights said on its official Facebook page that it was awaiting the result of a post-mortem examination on Hadhoud to determine the cause of death.

The council said it was co-ordinating with prosecutors and the Interior Ministry over 19 complaints it had received about alleged cases of forced disappearance since it was reconstituted late last year, as well as complaints about extended pre-trial detention and inhumane treatment in prisons.

Hadhoud, 42, was an economist and member of the Reform and Development Party, whose leader, former politician Mohamed Anwar Sadat, also sits on the NCHR. Mr Sadat, a nephew of former Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, has mediated the release of prisoners mostly accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood or spreading false news.

The office of the public prosecution said it was notified of Hadhoud’s death from cardiac arrest on March 5. Members of Hadhoud's immediate family were quoted by local media outlets as saying they were only informed of his death last week and that a post-mortem examination was not ordered until Sunday.

“The general prosecution wants to emphasise once again that it carries out its investigations transparently and credibly,” said the statement.

Authorities in Egypt have repeatedly denied charges that police and security agencies engage in forced disappearance, a term used to describe detentions by security agencies who do not formally inform lawyers or relatives of the whereabouts of the detainees or the charges they face until a much later stage.

They deny that there are political detainees in Egypt, insisting that since the 2013 overthrow of president Mohammed Morsi everyone in detention is accorded due legal process.

Rights groups, however, claim that thousands, mostly Brotherhood members, have been detained and many have been denied due process or been subjected to abuse or poor prison conditions. The government denies these claims and says it has embarked on a national programme to address human rights issues.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who led the military’s overthrow of Morsi amid mass street protests against the leader, has repeatedly criticised what he says is the common but narrow view of human rights as those pertaining only to freedom of expression or the right of assembly. He argues that this notion belittles the significance of other rights, like decent housing, good education and adequate health care.

Updated: April 12, 2022, 6:12 PM