Rights group calls on Egypt to release two disappeared women

Marwa Arafa and Kholoud Said were arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared, says Human Rights Watch.

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Cairo
One of the women was interrogated for 'spreading false news' over the coronavirus outbreak in Egypt [File: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

Egyptian authorities arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared two women in recent days, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), which called on the government to fully disclose their whereabouts.

The New York-based rights group identified the two women as 27-year-old Marwa Arafa, a translator and management consultant who had no known political affiliation or activist work over the past five years, and Kholoud Said, 35, a senior translator at Alexandria Library. 

Arafa was arrested at her home in the capital Cairo on April 20 by two plain-clothes officers and four armed masked men in police uniform, according to HRW. Said was arrested on April 21 and charged a week later with joining a “terrorist” group and spreading false news.

Marwa Arafa and Kholoud Said were taken from their homes and forcibly disappeared as their families stood by helpless,” said Amr Magdi, an HRW Middle East and North Africa researcher, in a statement on Wednesday.

“No warrants, no explanations – this is the behaviour of a security establishment run amok.”

Lawyers told the rights group Said was interrogated over allegations of spreading false news in Case No 558 of 2020, known as “the coronavirus case”, which has been brought against an undisclosed number of activists.

The case has seen the arrest and charge of activists, lawyers, and social media users who criticised the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed nearly 360 Egyptians and infected more than 5,000 others.

Egyptian officials under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s rule have routinely denied that security officials disappear detainees, but hundreds of people have gone missing for weeks, months or even years before being charged with offences “often based on security allegations that provide no material evidence”, said HRW.

Other cases

The news came a couple of months after Egypt arrested researcher and activist Patrick George Zaki, 27, who was arrested upon his arrival at Cairo Airport in February.

The student, who arrived from Italy and researched gender and human rights, was taken into custody at the airport and disappeared for 24 hours.

According to his lawyers, Zaki was beaten and subjected to electric shocks during questioning before he appeared at a public prosecutors office in his home town, the Nile Delta city of Mansoura.

Prosecutors ordered that he remain in custody for 15 days pending investigations into a host of allegations, including publishing false news, inciting protests without permission, and calling for the overthrow of the state. 

Zaki’s arrest stoked fears of a repeat of the murder of Giulio Regeni, a 28-year-old Italian PhD student who was disappeared and killed in Cairo in January 2016.

Thousands arrested

Rights activists say el-Sisi has overseen an unprecedented crackdown on freedom in Egypt since first taking power in 2013 and then winning elections in 2014. El-Sisi and his backers say the measures are needed to keep Egypt stable and counter threats from armed groups.

Thousands of people have been arrested – both secular-leaning activists and members of the Muslim Brotherhood – with authorities rolling back freedoms won after the uprising in 2011 that became known as the Arab Spring.

Egypt outlawed all unauthorised protests in 2013, months after el-Sisi led the military’s removal of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, following mass protests.

Source: Al Jazeera