Rather than immediately releasing Abd el Aziz on October 20, 2017, a deportation authority officer at al-Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi, where Abd el Aziz was being held, told his family they were arranging for his deportation to Egypt and asked them to book a flight ticket for him on November 7, his family told Human Rights Watch. When the family followed up with the prison after Abd el Aziz did not arrive in Egypt, prison officials told the family they deported him to Egypt on November 6. The Egyptian government did not respond to the family’s inquiries regarding Abd el Aziz’s whereabouts.
“Abd el Aziz’s vanishing potentially adds another layer to the absolute failure of justice in his case from his arrest, throughout his detention, and to his purported release,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Abuses, including serious allegations of torture, have marred every step of the process.”
Abd el Aziz, a 29-year-old engineer, is the son of Ahmed Abd el Aziz, a former adviser to the former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy. The UAE arrested the son on October 21, 2014, in Abu Dhabi, where he had been living since 1996 and worked for a mobile application development company. He was charged with involvement with the outlawed Al-Islah Party and its mother organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. On June 27, 2016, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi sentenced him to three years in prison and deportation upon release. Abd el Aziz said in a taped message before his trial that he had been “brutally” tortured by UAE authorities and had no interest or involvement in politics. He attributed his arrest to his father’s work with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
The family told Human Rights Watch that UAE officials told them to purchase an airplane ticket from Abu Dhabi to Cairo airport via EgyptAir on November 7 or a later date. The family contacted al-Wathba prison authorities at around 10 a.m. on November 7 to confirm that the ticket had been purchased but were told Abd el Aziz had been deported the day before. When the family asked why the date had been changed, the deportation authority officer responded that “these were the orders.” Authorities refused to provide any documentation showing that Abd el Aziz had been released or deported.
The Egyptian and UAE governments did not respond to the family’s repeated requests for information on Abd el Aziz’s whereabouts. Human Rights Watch reviewed copies of the family’s correspondence with EgyptAir that shows that the November 7 ticket was not used, as well as letters that the family’s lawyers sent to the Egyptian prosecutor general, the Interior Ministry, and the UAE diplomatic mission in Turkey where his family resides.
Because of Abd el Aziz’s perceived political affiliation, his deportation to Egypt appears to violate the fundamental international law principle of non-refoulement, meaning that no one should be deported to a country where the person is likely to face torture or persecution. The court decision reviewed by Human Rights Watch does not state he should be deported to a specific country.
Since Morsy was forcibly removed from power in July 2013, the Egyptian police and the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency have arbitrarily arrested tens of thousands of political dissidents. When the current interior minister, Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar, was appointed in March 2015, the use of enforced disappearance escalated, mostly targeting perceived Muslim Brotherhood supporters. In September 2017, Human Rights Watch released a report that documented the systematic use of torture by the National Security Agency, which could amount to a crime against humanity.
Since 2011, UAE authorities have also arbitrarily detained and disappeared scores of people who have either criticized the authorities or have alleged links to domestic or foreign Islamist groups. For example, Nasser bin Ghaith, an Emirati academic, who criticized the Egyptian security forces’ mass killing of demonstrators in Cairo’s Rab’a Square in August 2013, spent nine months in incommunicado detention after his arrest in August 2015. He was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Under international human rights law, an enforced disappearance occurs when the authorities take someone into custody and deny holding them or fail to disclose their fate or whereabouts. “Disappeared” people are at greater risk of torture and other ill-treatment, especially when they are detained outside formal detention facilities.
“No government has the right to disappear someone,” Whitson said. “Egypt and the UAE should immediately reveal Abd el Aziz’s whereabouts, and whoever is holding him should allow him to return to his family unharmed.”