Egyptian authorities should reveal the whereabouts of at least five Egyptian dissidents who were deported to Egypt in recent weeks, Human Rights Watch said today. Malaysian authorities deported at least four men to Egypt in early March, and Turkey deported one man in January.
The deportees are at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment in Egypt for their past political activities, and at least three had already been sentenced to prison in Egypt in absentia. Malaysian and Turkish authorities should end such deportations, which violate international laws, and transparently investigate officials responsible for ordering them.
“Since Egypt has a dire record of systematic torture, forcible disappearances, and unfair trials of dissidents, it is imperative for the authorities to provide full legal access to these deportees,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and Northern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Malaysia and Turkey should also publicly report on the procedures they followed in these deportations, including whether they considered the risk of ill-treatment upon return and whether the deportees had access to the United Nations Refugee Agency.”
Media reports said that Malaysia deported six Egyptians and one Tunisian in early March for potentially “planning [violent] attacks in other countries.” Human Rights Watch was able to obtain the names of four of the six Egyptians: Mohamed Fathy Eid, Abdallah Mahmoud Hisham, Abdelrahman Abdelaziz Ahmed, and Azmy al-Sayed Mohamed. The men had been living in Malaysia for several years. Two were students in their early twenties and the others were teachers and in real estate. The deportations appear to violate Malaysia’s nonrefoulement obligation under the UN Convention against Torture, which prohibits the forcible return of anyone to places where they would likely face torture. Azmy al-Sayed Mohamed approached the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, in 2016 to request asylum and pre-registered with the agency. However, after he was detained, authorities did not permit him to seek assistance from UNHCR.
Malaysian authorities said in statements that they revoked the men’s residence permits for violating article 9 of Malaysia’s Immigration Act, which provides for deporting foreigners deemed a security threat. Malaysian authorities arrested the four during the first week of February, said Hisham’s wife, Jodi Harris, an Australian national. However, authorities did not notify the family of any official charges, she said.
Harris and two friends of the four men said that the men were deported from Kuala Lumpur on March 5. The Malaysian authorities forced them onto a flight to Bangkok to fly to Cairo the next day. Human Rights Watch learned that the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand inquired with Thailand’s Immigration Bureau about the case and learned that Thai and Egyptian officials escorted the deportees onto their flight at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.
The Malaysian authorities did not give the men access to the UN Refugee Agency, confiscated their phones, and did not allow them meaningful access to their lawyers, Harris and one friend said. Harris said that her husband was told that one lawyer visit “was enough” and was denied any more visits. She also said that Malaysian authorities were preparing to prosecute the four men but instead deported them after the men were unable to get in touch with their families for days. A Malaysian lawyer told Human Rights Watch that authorities did not allow Harris to visit Hisham when she requested. Malaysian authorities should have taken the men before a judge within 48 hours and provided them with legal recourse to challenge their deportation, Human Rights Watch said.
The Malaysian police inspector-general, Mohamad Fuzi Harun, said in official media statements that five of the Egyptians arrested, including one person whose name Human Rights Watch was unable to obtain, were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, which Egyptian authorities banned in December 2013.
Harun accused the five men of “providing shelter, transport and employment” for two other men, an Egyptian and Tunisian, who were also arrested and deported after being accused of links to the Tunisian extremist group Ansar al-Shari’a, which the UN Security Council and the Tunisian government have listed as a terrorist group.
In a separate incident, in late January, the Turkish authorities deported Mohamed Abdelhafiz, an Egyptian sentenced to death in Egypt in absentia in a case stemming from the 2015 assassination of the former prosecutor general, Hesham Barakat. Abdelhafiz is being prosecuted in Egyptian military courts in at least two other cases.
Abdelhafiz had been missing since being deported to Cairo a day after he arrived at Istanbul Ataturk Airport. On March 3, Abdelhafiz appeared in a courtroom in Cairo and was questioned in one of the two military cases, a relative of his told Human Rights Watch. The relative said that a lawyer who was in the courtroom told the family that Abdelhafiz appeared to have been badly tortured and was unable to hear or see properly.
Turkish authorities said they suspended eight officers and opened an investigation into Abdelhafiz’s deportation. Egypt should allow all deportees meaningful access to their lawyers, and offer them a fair trial that respects minimum guarantees of due process if there is credible evidence of a criminal offense or otherwise release them, Human Rights Watch said.
“Malaysian and Turkish authorities are deporting people they know could face severe torture and unfair trials. Such deportations should not happen again and should be investigated,” Page said.