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Amnesty International Report Documents Activist Disappearances In Egypt


These days in Egypt if you speak out, you might go missing. A report by Amnesty International documents a trend that Egyptians have been living with for months - hundreds of activists disappearing at the hands of government security forces. Amnesty says many of those snatched from the streets or their homes end up being tortured.

The U.S. State Department calls Amnesty's allegations deeply troubling. It wants Egyptian authorities to investigate them. I asked NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo about the evidence that Amnesty cites to back up its claims.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, they have 17 different testimonials. They spoke to family members of the disappeared and in some cases victims themselves, friends of the family, Human Rights Defenders who work on these types of cases, officials on the ground, and that's what they've come up with. They say that three to four people go missing every day, according to local human rights groups who track this type of thing.

SIEGEL: Some of the brutality that's described - and I should warn people this is pretty raw - some of it sounds just atrocious. What of those cases?

FADEL: Well, some of the cases are really shocking. In one case, a young man Mazen Mohamed Abdallah just a teenager - 14-years-old - was taken by security forces, disappeared and repeatedly raped with a wooden stick to extract a confession, according to Amnesty International.

Another case also a 14-year-old who disappeared for 34 days was beaten, given electric shocks all over his body, including his genitalia and then when he was finally put in front of a prosecutor, he tried to retract that confession and then was threatened with more electric shocks if he tried to retract the confession.

SIEGEL: Well, if Egyptian authorities are doing this, why? What's the point of these disappearances?

FADEL: Well, this is something that we've been seeing go on for over a year that we've been reporting on as well. And the motive, according to Amnesty International, Human Rights Defenders, activists, they all say it's to silence dissent and to scare people into being silent.

The targets are generally mostly Islamists, people accused of being part of the Muslim Brotherhood that used to rule here but was ousted, banned and then called a terrorist organization. But we're also seeing protesters, students, secular activists - anybody who really speaks against the state or is perceived as an opponent to the state.

SIEGEL: And what does Egypt say in response to Amnesty's report?

FADEL: Well, at this point, Egypt basically dismissed it out of hand which is typical when there is criticism against the government. The foreign ministry spokesman posted on his Facebook page that the report isn't even worth commenting on, that it's politically motivated, that it's biased and it's only speaking to hostile actors. And it defended the judicial system saying that the judicial system doesn't use false confessions, that it bases its decisions on evidence and the constitution.

SIEGEL: Does Amnesty make any specific recommendations or call for action?

FADEL: Yes. They're asking for the global community to put pressure on Egypt to stop these egregious human rights violations, and they specifically single out the European Union and the United States. The United States gave $1.3 billion in military aid this year.

And Amnesty is saying don't give that blindly and unconditionally. Make sure that these human rights violations are addressed and this is often being done - these disappearances in this type of cooperation under the pretext of counterterrorism and securing the region, a partner in the counterterrorism fight. And what Amnesty is saying is that the U.S. and the European Union and other countries should not turn a blind eye to these types of acts that are increasing under this government.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo. Leila, thanks.

FADEL: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.