Major General Ali Abdel Mawla, deputy interior minister for legal affairs, has told a parliamentary human rights committee that claims of forced disappearance by security forces are unfounded, based largely on false allegations from the Muslim Brotherhood.
The general made the comments during a meeting with the committee on Monday, responding to ongoing claims that security bodies, particularly the National Security Agency, have kidnapped and detained hundreds of Egyptian citizens in recent years. While the ministry has investigated — and apparently resolved — dozens of such cases, ministry officials insist that the issue is largely the result of false claims on the part of enemies of the state.
According to Abdel Mawla, the Interior Ministry and its departments do not deliberately engage in such acts, recognizing them as illegal under Egyptian law. He cited the a 1993 ruling from the Supreme Constitutional Court relating to the Vagrancy and Suspicion Law No. 98 of 1945 (amended by Law No. 110 of 1980 and Law No. 195 of 1983). According to the ruling, those articles of the law relating to the detention of suspects without proper evidence of wrongdoing are in conflict with the rights and freedoms laid down in the Egyptian Constitution.
The general said that, while there is no policy of forced disappearance in Egypt, the ministry makes an effort to investigate all such claims on a case-by-case bases. He added that the ministry is not keen to increase the numbers of people in prison anyway, since the current prisons are overcrowded and there is insufficient money to build more.
Abdel Mawla also said that Egypt's military and security forces are making progress in their fight against terrorism, but this battle does not necessitate any breaches of the rights of Egyptian citizens.
In March, Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar issued a similar statement on forced disappearance, accusing Muslim Brotherhood leaders abroad of inciting human rights organizations to spread rumors of forced disappearance in order to pressure the Egyptian government and hinder its fight against terrorism.
"The Muslim Brotherhood exploits youth movements and organizations abroad and in Egypt to promote these allegations," he said. "The Muslim Brotherhood sends complaints of absenteeism and forced disappearance to the National Council for Human Rights, without reporting it to the police or the prosecution first."
Ghaffar said that all cases of suspected forced disappearance should be reported to the police first, rather than directly to human rights organizations, so that they can be resolved by the officials concerned.
"In many cases, the suspect is arrested in the presence of his family, in accordance with an arrest warrant, but his family then report to human rights organizations that he has been forcibly disappeared and publish his pictures on social networking sites in an attempt to pressure authorities to release him," said the minister.
The Egyptian government has been under pressure from both local and international media over allegations of large numbers of extra-judicial arrests, including many activists critical of the government.
Many of those who went missing were difficult to locate for long periods, often later appearing in courtrooms facing multiple charges, mainly related to national security and plotting against the government. Meanwhile, NGOs have recorded various accounts of citizens reported as missing after being arrested by security personnel.
In November last year El-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence said in a report that 40 cases of forced disappearance were recorded in one month.
In December the NCHR compiled a list of names of people who had allegedly been forcibly disappeared, sending the list to the Interior Ministry with a request that those missing should be located.
In January, the Interior Ministry said it had informed the NCHR of the whereabouts of 130 people out of the 191 reported missing by the organization.
The NCHR claimed in December that the phenomenon of forced disappearance was the result of a failure of police and security personnel to follow the rules regarding the arrest and detention of suspects. The rights organization called on the Interior Ministry to properly implement the Criminal Procedures Law, since this would help to avoid confusion about where suspects had disappeared to.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm