Egyptian blogger held incommunicado is at risk of torture

A student blogger critical of Egypt’s policy towards the Gaza Strip is believed to have been held incommunicado in the custody of State Security Investigations (SSI) services and at risk of torture since his arrest on 6 February.

The Egyptian authorities have still not disclosed the whereabouts of 23-year-old Dia’ el Din Gad, despite his family’s and lawyers’ inquiries to the Ministry of the Interior and the office of the Public Prosecutor. The blogger had been denouncing President Mubarak and the Egyptian authorities’ attitude to the delivery of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

“Dia’ el Din Gad has simply disappeared since his arrest two weeks ago, causing terrible anxiety to his mother and raising growing fears of torture and enforced disappearance” said Amnesty International.

Just before his arrest, Dia’ el Din Gad had returned to his home in Qotour city near Tanta city (north of Cairo) following the Friday prayer. He left the house to take a phone call and was immediately arrested by SSI officers. They beat him as he screamed to his mother for help.

Dia’ el Din Gad’s mother told Amnesty International how he frequently suffers panic attacks that make it difficult for him to breathe. He also has difficulty walking or bending one of his legs, due to injuries suffered in childhood. He takes painkillers and other medication, which he did not have with him when he was arrested.

On his blog, Sout Ghadeb (“Angry Voice”) Dia’ el Din Gad wrote views criticizing the Egyptian policy regarding Gaza – including the restrictions on humanitarian aid delivered through Egypt to Gaza – and later regarding the 4 February arrest of Ahmed Doma, a leading member of the civil disobedience youth movement, the Popular Movement to Free Egypt (usually known as Ghadeboun – “we are angry”).

He also referred to President Hosni Mubarak as “Ehud Mubarak” – in a reference to Israeli Minister of Defence Ehud Barak. According to local activists, a few days before he was arrested, Dia’ el Din Gad had taken part in demonstrations organized by the liberal Wafd opposition party in Cairo in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Amnesty International has urged the Egyptian authorities to disclose Dia’ el Din Gad’s whereabouts immediately, to ensure that he is not tortured or otherwise ill-treated and to give him access to lawyers of his choice, his family and any medical attention he may require.

“The Egyptian authorities should release Dia’ el Din Gad immediately and unconditionally, unless he is promptly charged with a recognizably criminal offence,” said Amnesty International. “He appears to be a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and association.”

What happened to Dia’ el-Din Gad is one instance of a series of attempts by the Egyptian authorities to silence critics of its policies towards Gaza.

In recent months, the Egyptian authorities have arrested, detained and tried those critical of the government’s position with regard to Gaza, including hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood for staging protests and bloggers and youth activists for their writings. They also tried others before military courts on charges of crossing Egypt’s eastern border illegally.

Egyptian-German blogger Philip Rizk was arrested by SSI officers on 6 February at a Gaza solidarity march. He was held in an undisclosed location for four days and was repeatedly interrogated, including about his relationship with Dia el-Din Gad and his emails accounts and passwords. He was released without charge; all his email and blog accounts were shut down and remain inaccessible.

Another blogger, Mohamed Adel, was arrested on 20 November and detained incommunicado for almost a month. He remains in detention and is being investigated by the State Security Public Prosecution on charges of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group and crossing the Egyptian border into Gaza illegally. If charged, he would be tried before an emergency court known for denying defendants the right of appeal and whose proceedings fall far short of international standards of fair trial. Several hundred Muslim Brotherhood members remain in detention without charge or trial since their arrest following a demonstration in solidarity with Gaza in December 2008.

Ahmed Doma was sentenced by a military court on 10 February 2009 to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of 2,000 Egyptian Pounds (US$365), along with Ahmed Kamal Abdel Aal. Both were convicted of illegally crossing the eastern border of Egypt into Gaza. While Ahmed Doma appears to have entered the Gaza Strip during the Israeli military campaign and returned afterwards, Ahmed Kamal Abdel Aal appears to have been arrested in Rafah, on suspicion of his intention to cross into the Gaza Strip. On 11 February 2009, Magdy Hussein, General Secretary of the suspended Labour party, was sentenced by a military court under the same charge to two years imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 Egyptian pounds (US$912). The court restricted access to the court room and only allowed four lawyers to enter and plead.

Amnesty International opposes the trial of civilians before military courts without any exception and has repeatedly called on the Egyptian authorities to end such practices. Trials of civilians before military courts in Egypt flout international standards on fair trial.

“These recent waves of arrests and prosecutions suggest that criticism of Egypt’s policy towards Gaza became unacceptable to the Egyptian authorities and whoever dares to criticize it is exposed to arbitrary arrest, torture or unfair trial”, added Amnesty International.