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Imogen Lambert

Guilio Regeni: The face of Egypt's dark disappearances

Hundreds of Egyptians have met the same fate as Guilio [Corriere de la Sera/Twitter]

Date of publication: 5 April, 2016

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In-depth: Italian media and Egyptian Human Rights groups are highlighting the escalating trend of forced disappearances in Egypt following the death of the Italian PhD student
"I will not tell you what they had done to him," said Guilio Regeni's mother, Paola, in the family's first news conference since he was found dead in Cairo.

"I only recognised him because of the tip of his nose. As for everything else, it was no longer him."

Paola emphasised that "his was not an isolated case"; Italian media reported that as many as 533 Egyptians have vanished since August, according to correlating figures from rights groups.

The Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms Associations recorded 1,840 cases of enforced disappearance in 2015 alone.

During a nuclear summit in Washington, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shokry claimed that the young Italian, Giulio Regeni, died as a result of sadist group sex involving torture - one of many outlandish claims that the Egyptian government has made surrounding Regeni's death.

The non-governmental Association for Italian Tourism (AITR) declared in a statement on Saturday that all package travel deals to Egypt would be suspended "until the tragic events of Regeni's murder are revealed".

The mother of Egyptian torture victim Khaled Said, whose brutal murder at the hands of police forces was one of the sparks of the Egyptian revolution, sent a message of solidarity to Regeni's mother on Saturday.

"I feel what you feel, I feel your pain, just as I'm in pain until today for my son Khaled," she said.

"I truly thank you because you care about cases of torture in Egypt and you will continue the path of your son; may God be with you. I don't know what to say to you, because what I feel is indescribable."

The others

Arrested from university halls of residence in al-Azhar, Assuit 

While the details of Regeni's murder are yet to be unravelled, his case has highlighted the fates of hundreds of Egyptians who have disappeared, with Italian newspaper Corriere de la Sera collecting data.  

The publication created a collage of the faces of the missing Egyptians in Regeni's likeness.


Amoung the hundreds of stories that the newspaper documented was that of Basma Raafat Abdul Munim, who went to al-Moqattam police station on March 6 to ask after her husband. She was subsequently detained by officers.

Her four-year-old daughter and another baby are currently in the care of her grandmother.

Basma is the wife of a retired army colonel, Ibrahim Yasser Arafat, whose whereabouts have long been unknown. Lawyers and associations believe that Egyptian authorities are holding the pair, and Basma's mother continues to appeal for their release.

Human Rights Monitor in Egypt released a report on Tuesday detailing the rapidly increasing cases of forced disappearances in Egypt. The organisation counted at least 300 arbitrary arrests by security forces, including 149 enforced disappearances.

In at least 40 cases, the detainee was "disappeared" by security forces after public prosecutors ordered their release.

Terror in the stadium

Detainees from Alexandria this month [HUMAN rights monitor]

On March 28, Egyptian security forces arrested 13 young people in Alexandria football stadium during a match.

They included Abdul Rahman Mohamed, aged 20, a first year engineering student, Abdul Rahman Mohammed al-Zuhairi, 19, a first year student at the faculty of arts and Zaki Mohamed Zaki, an accountant.

Security forces in Alexandria arrested ten other people last month, including a secondary school student, Khaled Abdul Majid, when security forces stormed his home and took him to an unknown location.

On March 30, engineering student Abdel-Rahmen Mohammed Ahmed Behi was arrested with friends while sitting in a cafe. After his friends were released they said they were detained on the fourth floor at the Security Directorate in Alexandria, but officials deny even the existence of detention facilities.

In Febuary, Mohammed Yousry Ali, an engineering student, was kidnapped by police while he was heading to see friends. Ali's family have made numerous complaints to the Attorney General and other relevant authorities, but have seemingly been ignored, and Egyptian authorities have refused to declare his whereabouts.

The family said they have faced "psychological hell" as they wait for news about their son.

The New Arab previously reported the disappearance of Fatima Hassan Shahata, aged 19, who has been missing from Port Said since January 11. The young woman, who was studying at al-Azhar University, is suspected to have been abducted by police, although officials have denied she was arrested.

"We all live in psychological torture, and suffer from a severe sense of injustice," said her mother last month. "Neither Fatima nor her family members have any political affiliations."

Child's play

Khaled Baqraa, 16, whose whereabouts remain unknown

Children are also frequently targeted.

In March, 17-year-old Omar Abdullah Abdel Maksoud was arrested in Mahala after security forces raided his home and dragged him out of bed.

Despite his family's appeals to the Attorney General, his whereabouts remain unknown.

In the eastern province of Sharqia, security forces arrested 16-year-old Khaled Baqraa from outside Kafr Saqr Institute for Religion.

A group of 17 students were kidnapped - for surely that is the word that best describes being taken against one's will and not served with notice of criminal activity, trial or notification of family members or authorities - from their halls of residence at al-Azhar University's Assuit Campus in upper Egypt on March 24, when security forces raided the dormitories.

Al-Azhar University, which has campuses in Cairo and Assuit has often been the focal point for crackdowns against students. Its campus in Cairo hosted large student demonstrations against the 2013 military coup, despite the leading authorities at what is seen as one of the pre-eminent seats of Islamic learning backing the army in ousting the elected Mohamed Morsi.

Many detainees are religiously observant, but, by many reports, are also unaffiliated to any political groups - including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Read more on Giulio Regeni
- Italy won't accept Egypt's 'fabricated' account of Regeni's death
- Egypt postpones highly anticipated Italy meeting over Giulio Regeni
- Egypt to admit spying on murdered Italian student Regeni
- Guilio Regeni's murder was not isolated incident, says mother
- Cairo 'bows to Rome pressure' over student death probe
- Egyptians mock 'ridiculous' police report of solving Regeni's murder
- Egypt rejects EU's 'undocumented' claims of human rights abuses
- Giulio Regeni was 'interrogated' for days: forensics expert
- Egypt is 'trying to cover-up' Regeni's murder: Italian MP
- Comment: Scholars at risk in the Arab world
- Regeni's body 'showed signs of electrocution'
- Egyptian students 'kidnapped by security forces'
- Convicted Egyptian torturer to lead Italian student murder investigation


Torture

A butcher in Giza who worked more than ten hours a day, Ahmad's disappearance surprised many - as he had never seemed in any way interested in politics.

On Febuary 2, a group of 15 officers blocked the entrance of his shop in Abu Nimris and arrested him. His whereabouts, like those of so many others, remain unknown.

The fate of the "disappeared" vary from being held and released after a relatively short space of time, to being held for months while undergoing the most inhuman of torture.

According to testimonies collected by the CHRF, torture forms included electric shocks, hanging by the hands, and threats of sexual assault, all aiming to extract confessions and information on possible suspects of terrorism or political dissent.

Many meet the same tragic fate as that of Guilio Regini, whose multiated corpse was found with evidence of his being tortured to death.

Yet the prospects of justice remain bleak; Major-General Khaled Shalaby, the Egyptian police officer who has been appointed to lead the investigation into Regeni's murder has himself previously been convicted in Alexandria of torturing a man to death.

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