Egypt's interior ministry said that information has been sent to the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) regarding 101 out of 191 people suspected to have been the victims of forced disappearances perpetrated by the government.
Abo-Bakr Abdel-Kerim, assistant interior minister for PR and media, told CBC channel that out of the 101 names, 83 people are awaiting trial, including 10 who were released and two who were wanted by authorities pending trial and were on the loose, in addition to 16 who are temporarily detained pending investigation.
He said the ministry is looking into the rest of the names and will inform the council.
"Since we have 83 people in prisons, this means there is no forced disappearance. Some people who are reported missing join terrorist organisations and get killed, while others are illegal migrants who drown at sea without anyone’s knowledge," said Abdel-Kerim.
In November, activists and human rights organisations like Al-Nadeem Centre, the Freedom for the Brave campaign, and the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms launched a week-long campaign against forced disappearance, with hunger strikes, hashtags and legal complaints.
"But where were they? So they were at the interior ministry," human rights activist Kamal Abbas of the NHRC reacted to the ministry’s comments regarding the detainees, saying that these arrests were “unlawful” as the suspects are detained without charge and are not brought before the prosecution.
According to the constitution, those detained have the right to contact their family within 12 hours of arrest.
"The [interior ministry's] response came after months of silence," says Abbas.
Abbas told Ahram Online that the issue erupted in June, as the NCHR called for a hearing session which was attended by over 70 people who said they had family members who were forcefully disappeared, including the family of photojournalist Esraa El-Taweel, who was found to be in Qanater prison two weeks after being reported missing in June.
The ministry did not react at the time, says Abbas. After that, local and international organisations started reacting and more complaints came in.
Forced disappearance or illegal arrest?
"The people who turn out to be in the interior ministry's custody are either forcefully disappeared, as their location is unknown while they are in custody, or they were unlawfully arrested," said Abbas.
"Forced disappearance is a horrible crime and reaches the level of being looked into by the International Court of Justice, because it means the authorities secretly arrested someone, so they can be subjected to any harm.
"As for unlawful arrest, it means that someone is detained for a period of time, then their location is announced or they are brought before the prosecution," Abbas adds.
In October, assistant to the interior minister at the human rights sector Salah Fouad denied the allegations of forced disappearance, saying "whoever claims otherwise must provide evidence".
Commenting on a previous report by the NHRC indicating 161 people may have been victims, Fouad said, "If people are claiming that there are forced disappearance cases, numbers will not help in any way. People should provide the ministry with names so that we can search for them instead of just creating a state of confusion."
Article 41 of the Egyptian constitution stipulates that "personal freedom is a natural right that is safeguarded and cannot be infringed upon. Except in cases of in flagrante delicto, citizens may only be apprehended, searched, arrested or have their freedoms restricted by a causal judicial warrant necessitated by an investigation."
NHCR committee gathers petitions
Nasser Amin, head of the complaints office at the NHRC, is preparing a declaration of petitions by families of people who were allegedly subjected to forced disappearance, "according to international criteria of forced disappearance," said NHRC member George Ishak.
Every Tuesday, the office receives complaints from the families of alleged victims of forced disappearance as defined by the UN.
Egypt is not a state party of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Forced Disappearance, which entered into force in 2010.
Article 2 of the convention reads that forced disappearance is "considered to be 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 authorisation, 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."
Abbas said the council is sending more names and that they hope there will be constant communication with the ministry. He also demanded that the ministry announces details of how detainees were arrested and where they are being held.
"Publish [detailed information]. It is a crime that concerns the public opinion, and the interior ministry is responsible in front of the public opinion, the constitution and the law, not the council," said Abbas.