Minister of Parliamentary ِِِِAffairs Omar Marwan said that there is no proof of any cases of forced disappearance in Egypt and that there were only 72 cases of police torture in the last four years during a Tuesday press conference for foreign media outlets.
The press conference, held at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Cairo, was also attended by Diaa Rashwan, head of the State Information Service (SIS), so that he could present the content of Egypt’s biannual report on human rights conditions, which Egypt presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) this week.
During the press conference, Marwan said that an individual’s disappearance doesn’t necessarily mean that they are in state custody, listing a number of other possibilities: “Maybe they sought illegal migration, or were killed while participating in terrorist acts, or fled their homes.” The minister continued to ask, “Why do we start off by characterizing [these cases] as ‘forced disappearances’? We have to say the person is missing.”
In response to a question about torture in police custody, Marwan said, “Egyptian law prohibits torture” and that the few instances of torture that occur are the result of attempts to escape from prison, which are dealt with using violence. The practice of torture is not systematic in Egypt, affirmed the minister.
The report, which Egypt presented to the UNHRC on Monday, includes 13 sections and lists Egypt’s achievements in the fields of human, social, political and economic rights, as well as the rights of women, children, youth and refugees.
In response to international criticism of Egypt’s human rights record, Marwan said: “The more Egypt takes steps forward, the more evil its enemies become and the more they attempt to undermine its achievements and target it in international arenas, especially as we approach the presidential elections.”
Regarding Egypt’s growing use of the death penalty, Marwan said that capital punishment is only used for the gravest of crimes and that verdicts go through a rigorous process before they are carried out to ensure that justice is served.
“Those who demand the abolition of the death sentence sympathize with the culprits, when they should be thinking of the victims and the crime,” he added.
Commenting on the criticism leveled against Egypt for imprisoning journalists, Marwan said that no journalists have been arrested for expressing their opinion in a newspaper. However, the minister added that “those who discuss matters unrelated to their journalistic profession” are held accountable for their actions.
Marwan said that Egypt accepted 247 of the 300 recommendations given to it by the UN in 2015 to improve domestic human rights conditions.
Rashwan said that the September 2017 Human Rights Watch report, which details 19 cases of police torture, consists of lies and will be reviewed for potential legal action by Egypt’s public prosecutor.
A February 23 report on human rights in Egypt published by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and titled “The Shadow Over Egypt” was also met with staunch backlash from SIS, who discredited the sources cited throughout the report and accused its author, BBC journalist Orla Guerin, of biased reporting in a February 24 statement.
Following SIS’ statement, Zubaida, a woman whom the BBC report alleged had been forcibly disappeared, sat down for a nationally televised interview on February 26 with media host Amr Adib, who impugned the accuracy of the report throughout the broadcast. During her interview with Adib, Zubaida stated she had never been forcibly disappeared, but had actually fled her parents’ house to get married.
The Cairo Court of Urgent Matters set April 10 for the first hearing in the lawsuit filed by lawyer Mohamed Salem regarding the closure of BBC offices in Egypt and the revocation of the media organization’s license to operate in Egypt.
Rashwan explained that his recent call on Egyptian state officials to boycott the BBC until it issues a formal apology is an expression of protest against the media organizations “violations,” and that SIS will still offer foreign correspondents in Egypt all the facilitations they need.