Egypt NGO defends detained human rights lawyer

Egyptian human rights lawyer, Ezzat Ghonim
Egyptian human rights lawyer, Ezzat Ghonim

The Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) has condemned the detention of the organisation’s executive director Ezzat Ghonim and expressed concern for his welfare in a press statement.

The human rights lawyer has been detained since 1 March in an undisclosed location; prior to his disappearance he had been working on the case of the arrest of a mother who accused Egyptian police of torturing her daughter, Zubeida Ibrahim, and being behind her disappearance in a BBC report, which angered Egyptian authorities last month.

Ghonim, who disappeared on his way home from work, appeared in a video published by the Egyptian Interior Ministry appearing weak and tired, prompting ECRF to issue a statement last week appealing for his release.

“We wish the Ministry of the Interior to exercise its work in the face of violence and terrorism without being involved in the distortion of human rights defenders, especially that all the violations monitored by the coordination are documented and have an international resonance,” ECRF said.

Some 21 local and international NGOs have signed a letter calling for Ghonim’s release, stating that the security services will be held responsible for his personal safety.

“Given the highly charged political climate in Egypt and the clampdown on dissent in the lead up to the presidential elections, we are deeply concerned that Ezzat Ghonim may have been forcibly disappeared”, Amnesty International, who has also campaigned for his release, said in a statement earlier this month.

The detentions are the latest in a series of actions taken by the Egyptian government in their on-going assault against free speech and the media. The State Information Service (SIS) reacted with anger to the initial BBC report entitled “The Shadow Over Egypt”, which profiled several Egyptians who have been disappeared since President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi overthrew the country’s first democratically- elected government in 2013.

The government called for the BBC to issue an apology and to prove that the report was mistaken, a woman claiming to be the disappeared Zubeida Ibrahim appeared on Egyptian television claiming that she had not been abducted, but had secretly married and eloped with another man.

The SIS released a second statement citing Ibrahim’s testimony, demanding the BBC issue a retraction, calling the report a “gross professional error” that resulted in “absolute falsification and fabrication”.

Egypt has regularly denied incidences of enforced disappearances, despite several NGOs pointing to the substantial evidence of state abductions. Last month Amnesty International condemned the escalating “human rights crisis” in the country in its annual World Report. It specifically mentioned the disappearances of hundreds of people on unknown charges.