World Egypt ad­mited se­cret ar­rest of rights lawyer

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World - 16

EGYPT on Wed­nes­day ac­knowl­edged the de­ten­tion of a hu­man rights lawyer who went miss­ing on his way to a U.N. con­fer­ence on forced dis­ap­pear­ances, ac­cus­ing him of dis­sem­i­nat­ing fake news.

Ibrahim Met­wally, who was ar­rested at Cairo In­ter­na­tional Air­port three days ago and ini­tially held in­com­mu­ni­cado, may have been tar­geted be­cause he pro­vided le­gal aid to the fam­ily of Gi­ulio Re­geni, an Ital­ian grad­u­ate stu­dent who was ab­ducted and tor­tured to death in 2016 dur­ing a po­lice crack­down in Cairo.

Re­geni’s killing sparked a ma­jor diplo­matic row with Italy, which said Egyp­tian au­thor­i­ties had not fully co­op­er­ated with in­ves­ti­ga­tors and with­drew its am­bas­sador in protest last year. On Wed­nes­day a new am­bas­sador ar­rived, sig­nal­ing an im­prove­ment in re­la­tions.

Egyp­tian au­thor­i­ties have de­nied any in­volve­ment in Re­geni’s killing, but activists say it bore the hall­marks of po­lice bru­tal­ity. Re­geni went miss­ing in Cairo on Jan. 25, 2016, when po­lice were out in force to pre­vent protests, and his body was found days later, bear­ing the signs of in­tense tor­ture.

The Supreme State Se­cu­rity Pros­e­cu­tion on Wed­nes­day ac­knowl­edged Met­wally had been de­tained, and or­dered him held for 15 days in Cairo’s sprawl­ing Tora Pri­son com­plex pend­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions. It said he was in­ter­ro­gated Tues­day night.

Egypt has se­verely lim­ited the work of the coun­try’s hu­man rights com­mu­nity amid a wider crack­down on dis­sent since the mil­i­tary over­threw an elected Is­lamist pres­i­dent in 2013. Au­thor­i­ties have im­posed travel bans and frozen the as­sets of sev­eral prom­i­nent hu­man rights ad­vo­cates in re­cent years, and par­lia­ment has passed leg­is­la­tion ban­ning most for­eign fund­ing for rights or­ga­ni­za­tions. In re­cent months Egypt has also blocked hun­dreds of web­sites, in­clud­ing many run by rights groups.

The Egyp­tian Com­mis­sion for Rights and Free­doms said au­thor­i­ties should im­me­di­ately re­lease Met­wally, drop all crim­i­nal charges against him, and re­port on steps taken to in­ves­ti­gate and en­sure ac­count­abil­ity in the case.

“He was charged with man­ag­ing a group cre­ated against the law, spread­ing false news, and co­op­er­a­tion with for­eign or­ga­ni­za­tions,” it said in a state­ment, adding that fam­ily mem­bers and lawyers only dis­cov­ered Met­wally’s where­abouts Tues­day evening, while his home was raided.

Met­wally co-founded Egypt’s As­so­ci­a­tion of the Fam­i­lies of the Dis­ap­peared af­ter his own son van­ished in July 2013 dur­ing clashes at an Is­lamist protest.

An ex­pert on the mat­ter who has been lob­by­ing Egyp­tian au­thor­i­ties on the is­sue since 2014, Met­wally had been in­vited to speak to the U.N. Work­ing Group on En­forced Dis­ap­pear­ances.

Egyp­tian au­thor­i­ties have taken sim­i­lar mea­sures against other rights ad­vo­cates who have tried to travel abroad to take part in in­ter­na­tional fo­rums, in what crit­ics say is an ef­fort to con­ceal its poor hu­man rights record.

Egypt ac­knowl­edged Met­wally’s de­ten­tion hours be­fore the new Ital­ian am­bas­sador, Gi­ampaolo Can­tini, ar­rived in Cairo. The new en­voy has been tasked with pur­su­ing the Re­geni case, which out­raged many in Italy and sparked a pop­u­lar cam­paign to pres­sure of­fi­cials to un­cover the truth.

There was no media ac­cess to Can­tini’s wel­com­ing cer­e­mony at the VIP lounge of Cairo’s in­ter­na­tional air­port.

Pier An­to­nio Panz­eri, chair of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment’s Sub­com­mit­tee on Hu­man Rights, said it was “un­ac­cept­able that a prom­i­nent lawyer should van­ish at an air­port,” and urged Egyp­tian au­thor­i­ties to en­sure Met­wally’s “im­me­di­ate and un­con­di­tional re­lease.”

“The con­tin­ued prac­tice of de­tain­ing the fam­i­lies of peo­ple sub­jected to en­forced dis­ap­pear­ance re­flects the per­sis­tent trend of ha­rass­ment and in­tim­i­da­tion of hu­man rights de­fend­ers, lawyers and or­di­nary cit­i­zens by the Egyp­tian au­thor­i­ties through the mis­use of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem,” he said in a state­ment late Tues­day.

Rights groups say en­forced dis­ap­pear­ances and tor­ture are en­demic in Egypt. At least two other in­di­vid­u­als have dis­ap­peared this year af­ter fol­low­ing up on cases of friends or rel­a­tives se­cretly de­tained by au­thor­i­ties.

Ahmed Ab­dul­lah, an­other lawyer who as­sisted the Re­geni fam­ily, was tried on sim­i­lar charges to those lev­eled against Met­wally and at one point faced the death penalty dur­ing his 4 ½ months in pri­son be­fore he was re­leased.

Just af­ter the new Ital­ian am­bas­sador ar­rived, the Egyp­tian In­te­rior Min­istry, in charge of po­lice, an­nounced it had signed a joint pro­to­col with its Ital­ian coun­ter­parts to train African po­lice to com­bat or­ga­nized crime and il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. – AP

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