Sameh Ashour, the head of the Lawyers Syndicate, called for a series of measures to be taken against the Ministry of Interior after the disappearance of lawyer Ibrahim Abdul Moneim Abo Gamos in the governorate of Sharqeya.
Prompted by what the syndicate contends is the enforced disappearance of Abo Gamos, Ashour called Sunday for a strike in governorate courts. Under the terms of the strike lawyers would abstain from attending any court sessions, with the exception of those cases where defendants have been detained pending trial. The measures will escalate contingent on the Ministry of Interior’s compliance with the syndicate’s demands.
Last summer, lawyers held several strikes to protest police brutality, ill-treatment, and violations against lawyers “as they practice their professions”.
A group of lawyers in Sharqeya claimed that a police conscript “kidnapped” their colleague Abo Gamos citing a video that was widely circulated on Friday evening. The video, which appears to be from a surveillance camera positioned above a supermarket, a civilian in plain clothes following a man who is speaking on the phone, who is believed to be Abo Gamos, into the supermarket. The video concludes with Abo Gamos and the man exiting the market together.
The lawyer’s daughter, Hadeer Abo Gamos, identified the first man in the video as her father in an interview with Dream TV channel. “As you can see, he is speaking on the phone. He was talking to me, asking if we needed anything at home, and, indeed, we asked him for a few things to buy from the supermarket,” she said.
When Abo Gamos did not return from the supermarket, his daughter and family tried to locate him.
“My father’s phone remained busy for a long time before it was shut off at midnight. My family and I went to the supermarket but did not find him, so we asked around in hospitals and police stations. The police denied having arrested somebody under that name,” Hadeer said.
The Ministry of Interior issued a short statement Saturday denying “hiding” Abo Gamos and impugned media sources that claimed the lawyer was enforcedly disappeared. The ministry also denied claims made by Abo Gamos’s brother, in which he accused a police officer of jeopardising the lawyer’s life.
“The lawyer in question was arrested based on a warrant issued by the National Security high prosecution authorities on charges of belonging to an armed group affiliated to the banned organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood,” the Ministry of Interior statement read.
A press statement by the Sharqeya Security Chief Hassan Seif Saturday stated that “colleagues of the arrested lawyers” have been informed of his whereabouts. Ashour disputed these claims.
“We have asked the ministry for clarification regarding the legal status of Abo Gamos, and inquired into the location of his detention. We were provided little information through the phone and have demanded official explanations,” Ashour said Saturday.
In a case similar to Abo Gamos’ that occurred in August, the family of lawyer Abdel Aziz Youssef claimed that police raided their house in the city of Belbees in Sharqeya and that they were not informed of his whereabouts, speaking of possible “enforced disappearance”.
A security statement issued the day after Youssef’s family alleges he disappeared stated that security forces had conducted a raid in the city and had arrested several “dangerous” suspects. Youssef’s name was not included among those arrested. A few weeks later, he appeared in security custody and remained there until he was acquitted from protest related charges in November 2015.
Lawyers are not the only category of citizens facing police abuse and threats, according to member of the Freedoms’ Committee at the Lawyers Syndicate Sayeda Kandil, who believes the ongoing conflict with the Doctors Syndicate reflects the complexity and expansion of police violations.
“We see clear conflicts between security institutions of the state – such as police conscripts and police officers – and those reflect in violations committed against the citizens,” Kandil told Daily News Egypt Sunday.
Since the beginning of 2015, lawyers have faced difficulties in police stations, security facilities, detention places, and courts. They have faced insults, physical assaults, and death.
Last December, two police officers from the National Security Apparatus at the Interior Ministry were sentenced to five years in prison in one of the most debated cases of human rights violations in Egypt. Lawyer Kareem Hamdy died after sustaining several physical trauma after being tortured while detained in Matariya police station on 24 February 2015.
In June, Ashour led a general strike across all governorates. Due to the attention brought to the issue by the strike, a police officer—who had injured lawyer Emad Fahmy by throwing a shoe at him in Farscur police station in Damietta— was ordered to pay an EGP 3,000 fine was imprisoned for three months.
While the syndicate has emphasised the importance of receiving official recognition of their grievances as a first step to larger accountability, those apologies they have received from state authorities—most notably that by President Al-Sisi who claimed the violations were “individual mistakes of the police” rather than a systemic issue—have not resulted in further improvements.
“As lawyers, we do not report every case of assault on one of us, if it would jeopardise defendants,” Kandil said.
Kandil stated that she was assaulted at the Mataryia station shortly after Hamdy. However, Kandil said that internal syndicate deliberations agreed to settle for a verbal apology from the police station in exchange for the release of the defendants Kandil was representing, pending the commencement of their trial.
In July, the Syndicate held a second strike to protest the shooting of lawyer Mohamed Al-Gamal by a police officer in a Cairo court in Nasr City. In protest of the violation, the syndicate decided to temporarily suspend work in courts in Nasr City and Al-Gamal’s hometown, Abu Hammad in the Sharqeya governorate.
By the end of July, lawyers were once more angered by a court decision to detain lawyer Mohammed Afifi. Afifi was the primary plaintive in the trial of Fatima Naoot who was charged with religious contempt. In the course of the trial, Naoot’s lawyer accused Afifi of insulting the judiciary in comments made on his Facebook page.
In August, 22 lawyers were sentenced to prison terms for insulting the judiciary. Ashour held an emergency meeting with the syndicate council members and the verdict was later revoked.
When asked about the role of prosecution authorities and the judiciary in enabling citizens to obtain their rights in case of police violations, Kandil shouted: “They are not doing anything right. There is no law enforcement and we have seen many verdicts that defy the law.”
Following recent outrage over the police’s brutal killing of a driver in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar, President Al-Sisi ordered Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar to prepare legislation to confront security violations and to enforce penalties on perpetuators.