Stay updated with our monthly Newsletter!

Egypt under pressure over mysterious death of researcher

The US department of State has, after various rights organizations, said that the death of economic researcher Ayman Hadhoud requires a “thorough, transparent and credible” investigation. Hadhoud died on March 5 in a Cairo psychiatric hospital, allegedly from “hypotensive shock and cardiac arrest”.

Forced disappearances

Hadhoud, an economic researcher and member of the Reform and Development party, disappeared on February 5 this year. Later, Egyptian police said it had arrested Hadhoud on February 6 after he tried to enter an apartment in Cairo’s Zamalek neighborhood. He was sent to a psychiatric facility after police interrogators had judged him as ‘incomprehensible’.

Two police sources, speaking anonymously to Reuters, had said that Hadhoud was detained for “spreading false news, disturbing the public peace, and joining a banned group” –typically referring to a membership of Muslim Brotherhood. His brother Omar Hadhoud said that his brother never faced these accusations and had no history of mental illness.

Egypt’s state-steered National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) requested an investigation of Hadhoud’s death. They labelled it as a ‘forced disappearance’, a frequently used term by civil activists in Egypt to describe unlawful detention by security forces. These take place without informing whereabouts of detainees and is often accompanied with ill-treatment and physical harm. Amnesty International has already examined leaked photographs of Hadhoud’s body, strongly suggesting forms of torture before his death.

Egypt’s crackdown

In Egypt, these ‘forced disappearances’ take place regularly, although denied by the country’s authorities. Since President al-Sisi took power in 2013, an enormous crackdown on liberal civil activists and members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood followed. This year, around Eid al-Fitr, Egypt released dozens of political prisoners. However, these appear as drops in the ocean – tens of thousands of political dissidents have reportedly been detained since 2013.

In late January, US President Biden has called off 130 million dollars in military aid to Egypt over human rights conditions that were not met. However, days before, the US approved a 2.5 billion dollars arms sale. “We are deeply disturbed by reports surrounding the death and custody of Egyptian researcher Ayman Hadhoud and allegations of his torture while in detention,” Ned Price, US’ State Department spokesperson, said.

Europe profits enormously too from arms trade to Egypt, alongside migration deals that are negotiated by the European Union. Without conditioning these deals to any human rights, western actors such as the EU and the US prolong the severe repression by Al-Sisi’s regime. Cold cases of forced disappearances – also of European citizens, such as Italian student Giulio Regeni remain unsolved, an appalling reality for their relatives. It is therefore crucial that human rights concerns are accompanied with economic repercussions – otherwise these words can be considered empty.

Sources: Al Jazeera I Reuters Al Jazeera II Amnesty Human Rights Watch

Photo: Flickr