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The No to Military Trials Campaign slammed on Tuesday recurrent kidnappings and attempted kidnappings of activists, allegedly by security forces, deeming them “state thuggery” in a press conference held at the Journalists Syndicate.
The group announced the launch of a campaign against activist kidnappings. Activists at the press conference recounted their experiences of illegal interrogation and torture in unknown places by anonymous persons.
“We are here to protest terrifying acts of oppression that we initially revolted against,” campaign member Mohamed Fouda said, adding that security forces are meant to protect citizens, not terrorize them.
Activists have reportedly been kidnapped for hours, sometimes days, then dumped on the side of a highway.
Activists allege that the kidnappings are carried out by security forces, as they remember similar incidents perpetrated by the state security apparatus during the era of deposed President Hosni Mubarak.
Legal definitions and frameworks
According to United Nations definitions, forced disappearance is an act of arresting, detaining or kidnapping a person by authorities without prior legal notification, depriving citizens of any legal protection.
“Legal procedures for arresting any citizen should be in public to protect the arrested person; forcible detention with no prior notification is an illegal act of abduction,” Mohamed Abdel Aziz, a lawyer working for Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, said during the presser, recounting the abduction of medical student Mohamed Saad Tork as an example of forced disappearance.
Tork was politically active in the blogosphere years before the revolution. He was arrested by state security in the northern city of Rashid. His father inquired after his son at state security headquarters in Damanhour, Rashid and finally in Nasr City to no avail.
“Once it hears about an abduction, the prosecution is obliged to file a criminal case to investigate the kidnapping without prior complaints by the abducted person,” Abdel Aziz said.
“Declining to do this is an act of premeditated reluctance,” he added.
Abdel Aziz slammed the prosecution’s reluctance to investigate abduction cases, especially as many signs of torture disappear within days of the abduction, if not hours.
“This is the route through which abductors evade punishment, as signs of the crimes disappear,” Abdel Aziz asserted.
The rights activist called for amendments to the Criminal Procedures Law and the Penal Code in order to change the legal foundation that enables torturers to escape punishment.
Rights organizations are requesting amendments that would enable them to pay surprise visits to detention centers, which are currently only granted to the prosecution, “who usually coordinate these visits with police officers in detention centers so that they can easily hide their crimes and violations,” according to Abdel Aziz.
According to estimates, there are 39 civilian prisons in Egypt, in addition to military prisons, and it is hard to determine if intelligence and national security headquarters are considered legal detention centers under the Criminal Procedures Law.
Rehabilitation specialist at Al-Nadeem Center and renowned political activist Aida Seif al-Dawla said that abduction is an extraordinary event for the abducted.
“Kidnapping definitely will have its psychological effect on the abducted sooner or later, no matter how strong the person is,” she said, adding that psychological damage after an abduction is related to expectations.
In dictatorships, people who choose to work in political activism anticipate different forms of abuse. Abduction for them, Seif argues, is considered within the realm of possibility.
“After experiencing harsh practices like abduction, experienced activists usually have the luxury of choosing between continuing in their activism or ending this path to avoid future violations,” she added.
But for those young revolutionaries who are taking their first steps into political activism, Seif argued, kidnapping is an extraordinary event.
“Abduction in this case is unexpected, thus the ramifications are much worse. They also do not have the luxury of deciding what they should do when they are free,” Seif said, adding that this psychological damage is the abductor’s goal.
Getting information through tough interrogation is not the aim of the kidnapper, but rather to terrify the abducted, Seif continued, as the abducted loses trust in everything surrounding them.
Mohamed Fahmy, an active member of the “Stolen” campaign aimed at tracking financial corruption of state officials during the Mubarak era, recounted his abduction.
Fahmy said that he was trying to collect official documents proving fraud allegations in Sharqiya Governorate when he was stopped in his way back to Cairo by civilians. He was blindfolded and left for hours in an unknown office.
“I know they wanted to psychologically destroy me by leaving me alone for hours,” said Fahmy, who was allegedly held for 26 hours.
“They interrogated me on my work and how I was getting these documents, but I denied everything,” said Fahmy, who was never physically tortured. He added that psychological torture can do even more damage than physical.