(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities should exert serious efforts to find and reveal the whereabouts of Mostafa al-Nagar, a former parliament member who has been missing for nearly five months, Human Rights Watch said today.
The government has denied any role in arresting al-Nagar and stated “that rumors on his forced disappearance” are false. However, his family was last able to reach him on September 27, 2018, and al-Nagar’s family members and lawyer told Human Rights Watch that Egyptian authorities have not meaningfully investigated his case. The authorities should also quash a conviction against al-Nagar for criticizing Egypt’s judicial system and police impunity.
“The Egyptian authorities’ denial that they arrested Mostafa al-Nagar and their clear lack of interest in locating him is of deep concern, given their systematic practice of carrying out disappearances and publishing misinformation to cover their tracks,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Egyptian authorities should immediately work with al-Nagar’s family to resolve this case.”
Al-Nagar, a 38-year-old dentist, is the founder and former president of the Al-Adl Party and a former member of parliament. Since he has gone missing in the southern Governate of Aswan on September 27, his family and lawyers have not been able to contact him or discover his whereabouts, a family member told Human Rights Watch. They fear he might have been arrested.
In December 2017, a criminal court sentenced al-Nagar to three years in prison and a one million pound fine (US$57,500) on the charge of “insulting the judiciary.” The case stemmed from his statements in a 2012 parliamentary session criticizing the judiciary for failing to hold security forces accountable for killing peaceful protesters. Egypt’s penal code, in clear violation of international law, provides for a prison sentence or fine for “insulting or humiliating” the judiciary, the army, or any other government entity.
On October 15, 2018, Egypt’s main appeals court, the Cassation Court, upheld the sentence against him and about two dozen other people, including former President Mohamed Morsy and the former parliament speaker, Mohamed Saad al-Katatni.
A memo written by the investigating judges that Human Rights Watch reviewed said that all of the defendants were prosecuted for expressing critical opinions about the judiciary system in parliament or through the media. These charges should be dropped, and their sentences annulled, Human Rights Watch said.
A family member told Human Rights Watch that al-Nagar’s wife, Shaimaa Afifi, talked to him for the last time on the afternoon of September 27. On October 10, she received a phone call on her private home number from an anonymous caller telling her that her husband was in police custody at Aswan's Central Security Forces’ al-Shallal camp.
Two acquaintances of al-Nagar told Human Rights Watch that, fearing arbitrary arrest, he went into hiding several months before his October conviction, but he kept routine visits to his mother and three children. On the day of his conviction, October 15, al-Nagar's lawyer Negad al-Borie, requested that the judges investigate al-Nagar's case, saying that he might have been arrested in Aswan.
Mostafa al-Hassan, an Aswan-based lawyer whom a family member hired to help locate al-Nagar, provided Human Rights Watch with copies of two inquiries the family sent on October 12 to prosecutors in Aswan and to the Prosecutor General’s Office in Cairo requesting an official response about al-Nagar’s whereabouts and, if the government was holding him, the reasons for his detention.
On October 19, Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS) officially denied in a press statement that the government had detained al-Nagar. Al-Hassan asked the authorities to track al-Nagar’s phone location, but “the authorities did not act upon these inquiries whatsoever,” al-Hassan told Human Rights Watch.
Al-Hassan said that government security agents later apparently threatened one source, who wanted to disclose information about al-Nagar’s whereabouts. Al-Hassan said that the Al-Shallal camp has been serving as an “unlawful detention center for political opponents such as Muslim Brotherhood members and indigenous Nubian activists” since 2013.
Human Rights Watch has had previously documented the use of security camps in various cities as detention facilities. In September 2017, authorities arrested a group of Nubian activists and detained them in the camp in poor conditions on charges of “participating in an unauthorized protest.” The activists were protesting government land policies that have kept Nubian people, an ethnic minority in southern Egypt, from returning to their original lands, from which they had been displaced by the government in the 1960s.
Al-Hassan said that many of those reported forcibly disappeared in Aswan were found later to be detained in al-Shallal camp, and that Egyptian prosecutors had sometimes interrogated detainees in the camp. In November 2017, Gamal Sorour, a French Egyptian Nubian activist, died in detention at al-Shallal camp due to lack of proper medical care, according to local rights organizations. Al-Nagar’s younger sister, Eman, said that her brother suffers from asthma and requires regular medication and medical care, increasing his family’s concern over his well-being. A family member who received information from other sources said that al-Nagar might have been transferred to a state security building in Cairo a few weeks after he was last heard from, but Human Rights Watch was not able to independently confirm this information.
Human Rights Watch has frequently documented cases in which Egyptian security forces, particularly the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency, have forcibly disappeared people but denied holding them. According to the Egyptian independent campaign, Stop Enforced Disappearance, the authorities disappeared at least 1,530 people from July 2013 to August 2018. The authorities also pursue, intimidate, and prosecute lawyers and activists supporting people who have been forcibly disappeared.
In September 2018, Egyptian authorities forcibly disappeared Ezzat Ghoneim, a prominent human rights lawyer, for months and denied holding him after a judge ordered his release. Human Rights Watch also documented the disappearance of Esraa al-Taweel, an amateur photographer, who appeared in prison after being held incommunicado for 17 days while several senior Interior Ministry officers had denied arresting her. Since February, Human Rights Watch has called for an independent, international investigation into torture and disappearance crimes in Egypt given the failure to transparently investigate systematic widespread abuses.
“The Egyptian authorities can easily take action to try to locate Mostafa al-Nagar,” Page said. “The authorities’ failure to find a missing, well-known politician is more evidence of their wanton disregard for the well-being of its own citizens.”