Seven Fishermen Continue To Be Held Incommunicado In Violation Of The Law
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) demands the opening of an immediate, independent investigation into the incident of the attack against 4 fishing boats in Damietta on Tuesday, November 11. The incident is engulfed in ambiguity and lack of information particularly regarding the fate of 7 out of 32 fishermen who were arrested during the events. EIPR demands that the competent Egyptian authorities disclose the locations where the 7 fishermen are detained, and either announce the charges against them or release them if investigations exonerated them from committing a crime. The 7 detainees must be allowed to communicate with their families and lawyers as stipulated in the law of criminal procedures.
32 fishermen from Ezbet el-Borg city had disappeared following media reports on an assault against a naval vessel in the area around midnight on November 11. EIPR conducted a field visit to investigate the incident an interviewing families of the detainees, fellow-fishermen and community leaders. According to EIPR’s investigation, the last contact between the fishermen and their families before the disappearance was at 11.30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 11, when the captain of one of four fishing boats that were out at the time, 40 nautical miles from shore, called his sister and informed her the naval forces were raiding the four vessels. Since then, the families have not been able to communicate with the fishermen, save a phone call four days after their disappearance.
The morning after the arrest, official statements made by the military spokesperson suggested the raid is connected to an alleged “terrorist act”. The statement further revealed that naval forces overpowered armed groups onboard four boats that were “destroyed”, and that 32 “terrorists” were arrested.
15 of the detained fishermen were released on the fifth day of their disappearance, Sunday the 16th, without charges. Four days after that, 10 more were released, also without charges. The remaining 7 fishermen continue to be illegally held incommunicado. None of the fishermen were referred to the prosecution, in violation of the law of criminal procedures which stipulates all detainees must be referred to prosecution within 24 hours of their arrest. With the exception of one call that was allowed to some of the detainees on the fourth day of their disappearance (Saturday, November 15), none of the fishermen contacted their families or lawyers. The families reached out to several security officials who reassured them. Several family members continued to gather daily in front of the headquarters of the coast guard in Ras el-Bar where the boats of the fishermen were inspected before taking off. The released fishermen couldn’t be reached for interviews and have reportedly refused to discuss the details of the period of their detention even with their immediate family members for fear of retaliation.
EIPR demands extending the investigation to include the allegations of mistreatment against the detained fishermen, and the damage done to some of the fishing boats. According to EIPR’s investigation, the group of fishermen were taken from their vessels by naval forces, and were hooded and blindfolded while being subjected to severe beatings. They were then transferred to the Port-Said naval base and then boarded a military aircraft that transferred them to an undisclosed location. Once there, they were illegally interrogated in the absence of lawyers. They have not been referred to the public or military prosecution according to the testimonies of family members of the released fishermen and friends who met with them after their release. The 25 released fishermen were let go in the vicinity of Ramses Square and were told they’re free to go home to Damietta (200 Kms away) which indicates they were held incommunicado somewhere in Cairo.
Several family members and friends who met with the released fishermen claim they showed visible signs of severe physical abuse.
Naval forces burnt two of the fishing boats, sunk one more and transferred the fourth to the Port-Said naval base according to fellow fishermen who explored the area after the incident.
Families of the fishermen demand the immediate release of the remaining 7 detainees, as well as remedy for the damage done to their loved ones, and sufficient compensation for the destroyed property of the fishermen. EIPR hold the authorities responsible for the safety of the 7 disappeared fishermen from torture and other forms of mistreatment- a practice that is commonly documented for detainees, especially in cases of enforced disappearance.
While EIPR realizes the serious threat of the continued terrorist attacks, mostly against security forces, it stresses that it is the responsibility of the government to safeguard the basic right to life and physical safety of both security agents and the citizens suspected for involvement in such acts. EIPR calls on the government to conduct full, impartial and independent investigations into the incident, with a view of bringing those responsible to account and providing adequate reparation including financial compensation to the victims of arbitrary detention, torture and destruction of property.
The incident comes amid an escalating pattern of forced disappearance by security forces in cases related to terrorism accompanied by an alarming rate of using torture and other means of coercion against detainees. This, coupled with the equally alarming deterioration in regards to due process rights, makes it imperative for the government to make a stand to restore faith in the Egyptian criminal justice system.