Egypt: Investigate allegations of disappearance, torture and extrajudicial execution of four men

Evidence gathered by Amnesty International suggests that Egyptian police extrajudicially executed four men who had been forcibly disappeared and tortured for periods up to four weeks after they were arrested on suspicion of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The evidence raises serious questions about government claims that the men were killed during exchanges of fire in two separate incidents on 20 and 23 June.

Family members who saw victims’ bodies at the morgue told Amnesty International that three of them bore signs of torture including bruises and in one case, burns, and that National Security Agency officers prevented them from photographing the bodies, confiscating the mobile phone of one of the relatives.

“Evidence pointing to the apparent torture and extrajudicial executions of these four men in police custody highlights the need for a prompt, impartial investigation into their deaths. The Egyptian security services today feel they can torture, disappear and shoot suspects without fear of any accountability or oversight,” said Najia Bounaim Amnesty International’s North Africa Campaigns Director.

“The Egyptian authorities must not be allowed to whitewash violations or give security forces free rein to torture and kill with impunity in the name of national security.”

The Egyptian security services today feel they can torture, disappear and shoot suspects without fear of any accountability or oversight
Najia Bounaim, Campaigns Director for North Africa at Amnesty International

The deaths of these four men are the latest in a string of dozens of killings of suspects by security forces since July 2015 which have been described by the Ministry of Interior as a successful “liquidation of terrorists”.

On 20 June 2017, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) announced on its official Facebook page that Abdelzaher Motawie, 32, Sabry Sabah, 46, and Ahmed Abu Rashid, 41, were killed in “an exchange of fire” when police approached the apartment where they were alleged to be hiding. The statement claimed that the three men had been charged with belonging to the armed group calling itself “Hasm” and participating in violent attacks against state facilities.

On 23 June, the MOI announced that police had shot dead Mohamed Abdel Moneim Abu Tabeekh, 39, on a highway in Giza governorate, after he “resisted arrest” on charges of financially supporting the armed group “Hasm”. 

However, information gathered by Amnesty International casts serious doubts over the authorities’ version of events and suggests that the four men, who went missing a month before their killings were announced, were already in police custody at the time of their deaths.

In both statements, the MOI accused the Muslim Brotherhood of sponsoring the armed group “Hasm”. The MOI did not report any police casualties in either incident.

Abdelzaher Motawie’s brother attended the washing of the body, a pre-burial ritual, at a morgue in Alexandria. He told Amnesty International he saw three bruises on his brother’s head and burns on his chest and shoulders. He also saw three bullet wounds to the chest and one to the mouth. He said that another family member who was there tried to photograph the body, but National Security agents present in the morgue intervened, confiscating his mobile phone.

Ahmed Abu Rashid’s brother-in-law and wife, interviewed separately, each said they saw a big bruise on his right cheek and smaller ones on other parts of the face.

Sabry Sabah’s relatives, who saw his body in the morgue, told Amnesty International that they saw bruises on his head, chest and near one of his armpits. They described seeing three bullet wounds; one in his chest and two in his back - one above each of his kidneys.

According to the Ministry of Interior, Sabry Sabah had been tried and sentenced in his absence to life imprisonment for belonging to “a banned group”; and Abdelzaher Motawie, was in hiding, wanted by authorities on the same charge. According to Sabry Sabah and Mohamed Abdel Moneim Abu Tabeekh’s relatives, police raided both men’s homes on 20 May after they had gone missing.

Amnesty International examined copies of documents including letters and telegrams sent by family members to the Public Prosecutor, the Cabinet and the Ministry of Interior calling for an investigation into the whereabouts of their loved ones several weeks before their deaths were announced, suggesting the men may have already been in state custody when they were killed. The documents state that Abdelzaher Motawei disappeared on 19 May, Ahmed Abu Rashid on 28 May, Mohamed Abu Tabeekh on 20 May and Sabry Sabah on 18 May.

They received no response to their complaints and in one case the authorities pressured relatives to drop their complaints and end the search for their loved-ones. Abdelzaher Motawie’s brother said that when he attempted to report his brother’s disappearance at Damanhour Police station on 22 May, a National Security Agency officer beat him, detained him overnight and interrogated him about his brother’s activities, then ordered him to never come back to the station. 

This is not the first time that the Egyptian authorities have failed to investigate allegations of extrajudicial executions. Amnesty International documented the extrajudicial execution of six men in Sinai on 13 January by police. They had been held in incommunicado detention for up to three months before being killed. In another incident in April 2017, a leaked video that was analysed by Amnesty International showed military forces in North Sinai extrajudicially executing seven unarmed individuals, including a 17-year old child.

The Egyptian authorities’ repeated failure to investigate reports of extrajudicial executions is a dangerous signal that they are colluding in grave violations being committed by the security forces.
Najia Bounaim, Campaigns Director for North Africa at Amnesty International

“The Egyptian authorities’ repeated failure to investigate reports of extrajudicial executions is a dangerous signal that they are colluding in grave violations being committed by the security forces. Instead of emboldening those who commit abuses they should ensure all perpetrators of such crimes are brought to justice,” said Najia Bounaim.

Extrajudicial executions are unlawful and deliberate killings carried out by officials, by order of a government or with its complicity or acquiescence. Enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions carried out as part of a widespread or systematic attack on the civilian population can amount to crimes against humanity.