Adonis Diaries

Rampant forced disappearances in Egypt? How the combat is unfolding

Posted on: September 9, 2016

Rampant forced disappearances in Egypt? How the combat is unfolding

For Egyptians, the risk of being snatched from the street and forcibly disappeared by the country’s security forces has never been greater.

In the first eight months of 2015, 1,250 people disappeared, according to a report by the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF).

In response, the organisation has created I Protect, an app that allows Android phone users to key in a code when they are being detained, which sends three text messages to contacts and an email containing the location of their arrest to the ECRF.

The group hopes the messages will aid a quick reaction during the first 24 hours of an arrest, key to stopping people being transferred from a police station to a larger facility, making them harder to find.

Mohammed Lotfy, executive director of ECRF, said: “Being able to speak out about the arrest of an activist or protestor in the first hours contributes to the person’s transfer from police to prosecution during the legal time from of 24 hours.

“This prevents their detention incommunicado, or worse their forced disappearance, and therefore reduces the risks of being subjected to torture or other ill treatment.”

Most affected are young people, especially students, in large Egyptian cities. A report by Amnesty International in July found that children as young as 14 years old “vanish without trace at the hands of the state”.

The report called forced disappearances, where the victim vanishes into a large security facility and is denied contact with their family or legal representation, “a key instrument of state policy in Egypt”.

Hundreds of people are thought to be secretly held in the national security agency offices in Lazoghly Square, Cairo, inside the interior ministry building.

Local threats

This is not the first time Egyptians have created an app to counter state abuses.

In 2013, a similar programme was created to alert the user’s contacts that they were being arrested at a protest – although this proved dangerous for those who were found by police to have the app on their phones.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

It’s so desperate in Egypt that this is needed: “App launches in Egypt to combat forced disappearances”

Disguised as a calculator on smartphone screens, I Protect alerts contacts and local human rights group when user is arrested|By Ruth Michaelson

The developer of I Protect, who has asked to remain anonymous and has not been named as part of the project, explained that the app’s interface is designed to guard against this.

“After applying the settings, the app converts into a calculator – so opening the app just means you see the interface of a calculator,” he said. “Only the user can convert it from a calculator into the app by combining certain words and keys that they set themselves.”

State surveillance penetrates deep into the internet and phone lines in Egypt, recently sparking a growth in the popularity of encrypted messenger apps such as Signal or Telegram.

Yet the developer of I Protect says there is no need to encrypt the app as “we don’t save any data in a database, the data is shared between the user and ECRF only”.

I Protect is the latest in a series of warning apps tailored to unique local threats. India has recently seen the growth of apps designed for women, allowing them to alert contacts or the police if they feel they’re in danger from attack or sexual assault.

After being car-jacked in Kuala Lumpur, a developer created an app called Watch Over Me, which tracks a user’s car journey and sends an alert if they fail to check in at their destination.

But an app like I Protect can only provide a temporary solution to the problem of forced disappearances, as the Egyptian state does not acknowledge the problem exists.

The interior minister, Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, said in March that forced disappearances do not occur in Egypt. He claimed reports of alleged forced disappearances were often taken directly to the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), or to international institutions, who he accused of being allied with the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, to scare citizens.

The head of the NCHR, which has repeatedly demanded answers from the government about forced disappearances, recently resigned over what he described as “a lack of cooperation” from the state.

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September 2016

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