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Egypt denies knowledge of Sisi critic's disappearance

Another outspoken Egyptian has vanished after being convicted for peacefully stating his opinions.

CAIRO — The Egyptian regime is continuing its police crackdown on political activists and dissidents, and authorities say they still have no leads into the whereabouts of former parliament member Mostafa al-Naggar, who many people fear was forcibly disappeared by the state almost a month ago.

On Oct. 13, Naggar posted on his official Facebook page about the possibility he would soon be jailed. He wrote, “Dear reader, if you can read this article now, then I must be behind bars.” Naggar has been missing ever since.

After a yearslong investigation, Naggar was sentenced in December to three years in prison for “insulting the judiciary.” He appealed to the Court of Cassation, but wasn't present when the court upheld his conviction Oct. 15. The Egyptian State Information Service, a governmental institution, announced Oct. 18 that Naggar was not under arrest, but rather was on the run because he didn't want to serve the sentence.

Negad al-Borai, Naggar’s lawyer, said Naggar had been on the regime's radar at least since the January 25 Revolution in 2011. In 2012, a video of Naggar speaking in parliament came out in which he is heard talking about those accused of killing protesters during the revolution and the fact they were not brought to justice. Naggar also contended that evidence incriminating those responsible had been concealed, though he didn't accuse anyone specific.

Borai told Al-Monitor by phone, “The news I received after my client disappeared indicated that he was detained in the security camp in Aswan, but the authorities denied these allegations in an official statement published on the website of the State Information Service.”

Borai added that Egyptian authorities have systematically increased their crackdown on political critics and dissidents. In addition to Naggar, they have arrested journalist Adel Sabri, feminist activist Amal Fathi, political activist Shadi al-Ghazali Harb and blogger Wael Abbas. Borai noted that the Egyptian Constitution stipulates in Article 54, “Personal freedom is a natural right which is safeguarded and cannot be infringed upon. Except in cases of in flagrante delicto, citizens may only be apprehended, searched, arrested or have their freedoms restricted by a causal judicial warrant necessitated by an investigation.”

Consequently, the state is responsible for protecting its citizens’ freedom and revealing if Naggar is being detained, or at least searching for him.

Amnesty International published a report Sept. 20 saying, “The security services have been ruthless in clamping down on any remaining political, social or even cultural independent spaces. These measures, more extreme than anything seen in former President Hosni Mubarak’s repressive 30-year rule, have turned Egypt into an open-air prison for critics.”

The report noted that since December, Amnesty International has documented the National Security’s arrest of at least 111 individuals for criticizing President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and human rights conditions in Egypt.

The report called for readers to sign a petition and send letters to Egyptian authorities to call on them to release, immediately and unconditionally, all those detained for expressing their views peacefully.

The Civil Democratic Movement, a liberal political movement, issued a press release Oct. 22 expressing its deep concerns regarding the way peaceful political dissidents and intellectuals are being handled in Egypt.

The movement noted Naggar's sudden disappearance and condemned “measures that do not respect the Egyptian Constitution and law and that breach all international treaties and agreements defending human rights and freedom of expression.” It called on authorities to reveal the whereabouts of the missing and to release detainees who are being held because of their opinions.

The SIS issued another press release Oct. 29 denying Naggar’s arrest and repeating its claim that he is seeking to escape the verdict against him.

The press release read, “Naggar posted on his Facebook page Oct. 13, two days before the hearing, around 1,000 words about the case in which he stands condemned, and he wrote about the possible prison sentence. After the post was published and the Cassation Court refused his appeal, foreign and Egyptian media said he was forcibly disappeared or arrested by the security authorities.” But the SIS denied these allegations.

The head of the SIS, Diaa Rashwan, told Al-Monitor by phone that he contacted all official state authorities, but they denied that Naggar was being held at any prison or center or by any party. “The minister of interior repeatedly asserted to me that the ministry has contacted its institutions and departments to find out Naggar’s whereabouts and that it took 12 hours to verify the information, which showed no sign of Naggar," he said.

“I have personally known Naggar since 2011, and I ask him to reveal where he is, because he is not in any detention center," he added.

Rashwan said he had talked to the head of the prison department at the Ministry of Interior, Zakariya al-Ghumri, who also said Naggar is not in any ministry prisons.

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