Egypt’s state-appointed human rights council has urged prosecutors to investigate whether an economic researcher, who authorities say died in a state mental health facility last month, was a victim of forced disappearance. The country’s public prosecution said there was no criminal suspicion in the death.
The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) also said in a statement late on Monday that it was awaiting the result of an autopsy of the economist, Ayman Hadhoud, to see if he was subjected to torture before his death.
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Forced disappearance is a term activists use for detentions carried out by security agencies during which lawyers and relatives are not officially informed about the whereabouts of detainees or the charges against them. Authorities deny that they take place.
Egypt’s public prosecution said on Tuesday that its own investigation showed “no criminal suspicion” in the death of Hadhoud, who went missing on February 5.
The prosecution said in a statement that Hadhoud died on March 5 of “hypotensive shock and cardiac arrest”.
“The prosecution examined his body and found no injuries, and called in a health inspector to conduct an external examination … which confirmed no criminal suspicion in his death, and police investigations confirmed no criminal suspicion in his death,” the statement said.
The results of a separate autopsy the prosecution ordered have yet to be released.
A police statement Sunday denied he had been “forcibly disappeared”.
Hadhoud was an economist and member of the Reform and Development Party, a liberal party with a small presence in parliament. Its leader, Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, sits on the NCHR and has mediated some recent prisoner releases.
The prosecution said police arrested Hadhoud on February 6 after a guard found him trying to enter an apartment in Cairo’s Zamalek neighbourhood, and that prosecutors sent him to a mental health hospital after judging him “incomprehensible” during interrogation.
The interior ministry said he was arrested over a break-in and sent to the hospital after questioning. Egypt’s state information service gave no immediate comment on the case.
The prosecution said it was notified of Hadhoud’s death from cardiac arrest on March 5.
Hadhoud’s brother has been quoted by local media raising concerns about the case, saying the family were just informed of his death last week and that an autopsy was not ordered until Sunday.
Two security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity to the Reuters news agency, said Hadhoud had been detained in February on accusations of spreading false news, disturbing the public peace, and joining a banned group – generally a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and a charge often levelled at political activists.
Rights groups say tens of thousands of political prisoners are being held in Egypt. Officials deny the existence of political prisoners, and assert that the judiciary is independent.
The NCHR said it was coordinating with the public prosecution and interior ministry over 19 complaints it had received about alleged cases of forced disappearance since it was reconstituted late last year, as well as complaints about extended pre-trial detention and inhumane treatment in prisons.
Egypt has recently freed several prominent political detainees, raising hopes for an easing of a sweeping crackdown on dissent, but rights activists say repression remains “systematic”.
The revival of the NCHR, which had been in abeyance for several years, is also one of a series of steps Egyptian authorities have taken in recent months in what they say is an effort to address human rights. Critics have dismissed those efforts as hollow.