(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities should reveal the whereabouts of at least five Egyptian dissidents who were deported to Egypt in recent weeks, Human Rights Watch said today. Malaysian authorities deported at least four men to Egypt in early March, and Turkey deported one man in January.
The deportees are at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment in Egypt for their past political activities, and at least three had already been sentenced to prison in Egypt in absentia. Malaysian and Turkish authorities should end such deportations, which violate international laws, and transparently investigate officials responsible for ordering them.
“Since Egypt has a dire record of systematic torture, forcible disappearances, and unfair trials of dissidents, it is imperative for the authorities to provide full legal access to these deportees,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and Northern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Malaysia and Turkey should also publicly report on the procedures they followed in these deportations, including whether they considered the risk of ill-treatment upon return and whether the deportees had access to the United Nations Refugee Agency.”
Media reports said that Malaysia deported six Egyptians and one Tunisian in early March for potentially “planning [violent] attacks in other countries.” Human Rights Watch was able to obtain the names of four of the six Egyptians: Mohamed Fathy Eid, Abdallah Mahmoud Hisham, Abdelrahman Abdelaziz Ahmed, and Azmy al-Sayed Mohamed. The men had been living in Malaysia for several years. Two were students in their early twenties and the others were teachers and in real estate. The deportations appear to violate Malaysia’s nonrefoulement obligation under the UN Convention against Torture, which prohibits the forcible return of anyone to places where they would likely face torture. Azmy al-Sayed Mohamed approached the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, in 2016 to request asylum and pre-registered with the agency. However, after he was detained, authorities did not permit him to seek assistance from UNHCR.
Malaysian authorities said in statements that they revoked the men’s residence permits for violating article 9 of Malaysia’s Immigration Act, which provides for deporting foreigners deemed a security threat. Malaysian authorities arrested the four during the first week of February, said Hisham’s wife, Jodi Harris, an Australian national. However, authorities did not notify the family of any official charges, she said.
Harris and two friends of the four men said that the men were deported from Kuala Lumpur on March 5. The Malaysian authorities forced them onto a flight to Bangkok to fly to Cairo the next day. Human Rights Watch learned that the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand inquired with Thailand’s Immigration Bureau about the case and learned that Thai and Egyptian officials escorted the deportees onto their flight at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.
The Malaysian authorities did not give the men access to the UN Refugee Agency, confiscated their phones, and did not allow them meaningful access to their lawyers, Harris and one friend said. Harris said that her husband was told that one lawyer visit “was enough” and was denied any more visits. She also said that Malaysian authorities were preparing to prosecute the four men but instead deported them after the men were unable to get in touch with their families for days. A Malaysian lawyer told Human Rights Watch that authorities did not allow Harris to visit Hisham when she requested. Malaysian authorities should have taken the men before a judge within 48 hours and provided them with legal recourse to challenge their deportation, Human Rights Watch said.
The Malaysian police inspector-general, Mohamad Fuzi Harun, said in official media statements that five of the Egyptians arrested, including one person whose name Human Rights Watch was unable to obtain, were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, which Egyptian authorities banned in December 2013.
Harun accused the five men of “providing shelter, transport and employment” for two other men, an Egyptian and Tunisian, who were also arrested and deported after being accused of links to the Tunisian extremist group Ansar al-Shari’a, which the UN Security Council and the Tunisian government have listed as a terrorist group.
In a separate incident, in late January, the Turkish authorities deported Mohamed Abdelhafiz, an Egyptian sentenced to death in Egypt in absentia in a case stemming from the 2015 assassination of the former prosecutor general, Hesham Barakat. Abdelhafiz is being prosecuted in Egyptian military courts in at least two other cases.
Abdelhafiz had been missing since being deported to Cairo a day after he arrived at Istanbul Ataturk Airport. On March 3, Abdelhafiz appeared in a courtroom in Cairo and was questioned in one of the two military cases, a relative of his told Human Rights Watch. The relative said that a lawyer who was in the courtroom told the family that Abdelhafiz appeared to have been badly tortured and was unable to hear or see properly.
Turkish authorities said they suspended eight officers and opened an investigation into Abdelhafiz’s deportation. Egypt should allow all deportees meaningful access to their lawyers, and offer them a fair trial that respects minimum guarantees of due process if there is credible evidence of a criminal offense or otherwise release them, Human Rights Watch said.
“Malaysian and Turkish authorities are deporting people they know could face severe torture and unfair trials. Such deportations should not happen again and should be investigated,” Page said.
Abdallah Mahmoud Hisham
Human Rights Watch obtained court documents that show that Hisham was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine for participating in a January 2014 anti-government protest in Alexandria. The prosecution claimed that Hisham and four co-defendants participated in a violent protest and that a police car was vandalized. Human Rights Watch also reviewed a complaint Hisham’s family sent to Alexandria’s public prosecutor on January 20, 2016, saying that the police had held Hisham for several weeks incommunicado after he finished his sentence. Hisham’s wife said he was not wanted on other charges and left Egypt legally after he was released. A copy of his passport that Human Rights Watch reviewed showed that he left Egypt via Borj al-Arab Airport on April 8, 2016, and obtained student residency in Malaysia.
She said that lawyers have been unable to locate Hisham since he was deported to Egypt.
Abdelrahman Abdelaziz Ahmed
Egyptian authorities arrested Ahmed, a 23-year-old student from Cairo, in mid-2015 and accused him of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and taking part in anti-government protests. After Ahmed left Egypt for Malaysia, an Egyptian criminal court sentenced him in absentia to 15 years in prison. Human Rights Watch reviewed pages of the prosecution file that showed that authorities accused Ahmed of holding posters against the 2013 military coup in Egypt and carrying a mobile phone that had a photo with Hazem Salah Abu Ismael, an Islamist figure.
Azmy al-Sayed Mohamed
Egyptian pro-government newspapers reported that Mohamed was among 51 defendants the criminal court in Mansoura city sentenced to life in prison in absentia following a mass trial of 54 people, accused of taking part in a violent protest in September 2013. The case stemmed from violent clashes between funeral marchers for Safwat Khalil, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, and the police and government supporters. Khalil, a cancer patient, allegedly died of lack of medical care in prison. The Brotherhood claimed that ”thugs” attacked the funeral that attracted hundreds of marchers.
Turkish authorities deported Abdelhafiz, a 28-year-old agriculture engineer, to Egypt on January 18, a relative told Human Rights Watch. The relative said that Abdelhafiz was admitted to Turkey upon his arrival from Somalia on January 17 and that he was planning to request asylum. However, after stamping his passport, an officer detained him, saying there had been a mistake that would be “resolved.” The relative said that his family lost communication with him a few hours later.
The relative, who lives in Turkey, said that the government had not contacted the family or provided any information despite official statements that the Turkish authorities had opened an investigation into Abdelhafiz’s deportation.
Abdelhafiz is one of 15 defendants sentenced to death in the mass trial of 68 people for the assassination of the former prosecutor general Hisham Barakat. Egyptian authorities executed nine of them on February 20 despite their uninvestigated allegations about their torture and disappearance. Abdelhafiz is entitled to a retrial under international and Egyptian law since he was convicted in absentia. No retrial date has been set.
The relative said that lawyers were unable to locate Abdelhafiz after his deportation until March 3, when he appeared during a court hearing in the Omnaa’ al-Shorta Institute, a police academy in Cairo. The hearing was for a different case before military judges stemming from the case of a failed attempted assassination of the public prosecutor’s assistant, Zakria Abdelaziz. The Justice Ministry has moved many hearings involving defendants with political backgrounds to police institutions in recent years, allegedly for security reasons.
The relative said the family was not informed that Abdelhafiz was accused in this case, though the prosecution had referred the case to a court more than two years ago. Hearings in this case started in November 2017 for about 300 defendants, almost all civilians, who are charged with staging violent attacks and joining the armed group “Hasm.”
Human Rights Watch reviewed the indictment list of another case known as “Hasm 2,” in which 278 defendants, including Abdelhafiz, have been referred to a military court in 2019 for staging violent attacks.
Abdelhafiz left Egypt permanently in late 2014 after he had been prosecuted in a case stemming from participating in an anti-government protest, for which he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia.
The relative said that the lawyer in the courtroom was unable to meet or talk with Abdelhafiz on March 3. However, the lawyer told the family that he appeared “unable to hear or see properly,” and that he might have been badly abused. The lawyer said Abdelhafiz was “unbalanced” and once his name was called, he told the judge before being questioned: “I’ll admit to whatever you want me to admit.” The lawyer told the relative that Abdelhafiz did not appear in any other court hearings after March 3.
The relative said that Abdelhafiz was taken to the courtroom by two officers who identified themselves as National Security Agency officers. When the judge asked where they arrested Abdelhafiz, an officer said they arrested him at the airport and that he was kept in “the relevant security entity” without disclosing where. Since then, the lawyer has been unable to locate Abdelhafiz. Human Rights Watch reviewed an arrest order dated January 18 that stated that the National Security Agency arrested Abdelhafiz “upon return to the country.”