Egyptian ex-lawmaker goes missing, may have been detained

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi attends a signing ceremony following his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Shaymaa Afifi, the wife of Mustafa el-Nagar, a former Egyptian lawmaker, says her husband went missing nearly three weeks ago and may have been detained by security forces. Rights activists say Egyptian authorities have made dozens of people disappear in recent years as part of a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent, but el-Sissi's government dismisses as unfounded accusations of its involvement. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, Pool)

CAIRO — A former Egyptian lawmaker went missing nearly three weeks ago and may have been detained by security forces, his wife said in a request sent to authorities seeking information about her husband's whereabouts — the latest reported incident to highlight worrying incarceration practices.

Rights activists say Egyptian authorities have made dozens of people disappear in recent years as part of a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent launched after the military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, an elected but divisive Islamist president, in 2013.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's government dismisses as unfounded accusations of its involvement, arguing that in many cases those who disappeared left their families to join Islamic militants fighting security forces in the north of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Shaymaa Afifi, the wife, said in her request, obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday, that Mustafa el-Nagar, 38, went missing on Sept. 27 while traveling to the southern city of Aswan. She said an unknown person informed her by telephone last week that police arrested her husband but gave her no further details.

Egypt's main appeals court on Monday upheld a three-year prison sentence for el-Nagar and some two dozen people, including Morsi, following their convictions of insulting the judiciary.

El-Nagar had been out on appeal. His wife said he had been expected to attend Monday's hearing at the Court of Cassation but he did not show up.

Meanwhile, another activist, who was a member of the pro-democracy April 6 Movement, was arrested on Sunday, his wife said.

Heba Anees told the AP on Wednesday her husband, dentist Walid Shawki, was taken by three policemen in plain clothes from his private clinic in Cairo. She said the family does not know where he is being held.

She said officers at the nearest police station denied any knowledge of her husband's detention. The family later learned he was being held by National Security, an arm of the Interior Ministry focused on perceived threats to the state.

Both men's families have sent requests to prosecutors and the Interior Ministry, which supervises police, asking for information about their whereabouts. A spokesman for Egypt's Interior Ministry did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The April 6 Movement played a key role in organizing the 2011 uprising that forced longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power. It was banned by court order in 2014, accused of illegally receiving foreign funds and threatening national security. Its leaders have all been jailed or fled the country, and the rest, like Shawki, have largely gone silent.

Egypt has arrested thousands of people since 2013, mainly Islamists but also a number of secular activists. Many have been held for months or years without charge.

Human Rights Watch, citing figures from independent Egyptian rights campaigners, said earlier this month that authorities have made at least 230 people disappear since August 2017 and are increasingly targeting journalists and rights activists.

In yet another case, a court postponed a hearing for two lawyers from an Egyptian rights group who were detained and haven't been seen since last month, the group said.

The Cairo Criminal court ordered the delay a day earlier in the case of lawyers Ezzat Ghoneim and Azzouz Mahgoub, whose case has in the past been handled by the Supreme State Security Prosecution, which handles alleged terrorism cases.

Ghoneim heads the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, which issued the statement. The men had been ordered released on Sept. 4 pending investigation, but have not been seen or heard from since Sept. 13.

Both Ghoneim and Mahgoub supported victims of alleged police torture, the disappeared and their families in Egypt. One such well-known case they handled was that of a woman named Oum Zubeida, who was interviewed by the BBC for a report about forced disappearances. The report had angered Egyptian authorities.

The woman had said her daughter had been victim of forced disappearance and that police tortured her in prison. The woman was later charged with spreading false information and is now in prison with the case pending.

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