New York, March 3, 2016 – Egyptian authorities should immediately charge or release journalist Sabry Anwar and order an independent and thorough investigation into claims he has been tortured, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Security forces arrested Anwar, a correspondent for the independent newspaper El Badil, from his home in the Mediterranean city of Damietta more than 10 days ago, according to his wife and his employer. The newspaper and Anwar’s family say they do not know where he is being held.
Masked security agents wearing civilian clothes and police uniforms raided Anwar’s home in Damietta at dawn on February 21, arrested the journalist, seized his laptop and his mobile phone, and took him away in a police prisoner-transport truck, Heba al-Khedry, Anwar’s wife, told CPJ. After four days of searching, al-Khedry was able to meet with him briefly at a nearby police station, during which time Anwar told her that he had been subjected to torture by electric shock on four separate occasions, and that security officers had pressured him to confess to crimes he did not commit.
“Given Egypt’s denials that Sabry Anwar is in police custody and his allegations of torture, we are extremely concerned for the journalist’s safety,” CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “The authorities must disclose Anwar’s location, come forward with clear charges against him, if they have any, and credibly and thoroughly investigate allegations he has been abused in police custody.”
After his arrest, Anwar’s wife and lawyers searched for him at local police stations over the course of February 21, but each station denied that he was in its custody, according to al-Khedry.
The day after his arrest, al-Khedry received a tip that Anwar was being held in Kafr al-Bateekh police station, she said. She went to the station, accompanied by lawyers, where she says she caught sight of Anwar but was not able to speak with him. She and her lawyers tried to obtain written verification from officials at the station that he was in their custody, but the officials refused.
On February 24, al-Khedry returned to Kafr al-Bateekh police station, accompanied by lawyers once again. On that occasion she was able to see and speak with Anwar, although there was no official record of his detention at the station, she said.
Afterwards, al-Khedry and her lawyer went to see the head of investigations at the police station, who said that Anwar would appear before prosecutors the following day. When the journalist’s wife and lawyers returned to the station the following day, the same officer denied that Anwar was in custody there, she said. Their subsequent attempts to locate the journalist have been unsuccessful.
The Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate on February 29 filed a complaint to Egypt’s prosecutor general and the Ministry of Interior, requesting information about Anwar’s location and expressing concern that he might have been subjected to torture, according to news reports. Local and international human rights organizations say that people taken into custody who are held in unknown locations, and whose detention is denied by the authorities, are at high risk of torture in Egypt. The Egyptian Interior Ministry has repeatedly said that any instances of police abuse are isolated incidents.
Anwar has been a correspondent with El Badil for roughly one year, covering local news in Damietta, editor Karim Saeed, Anwar’s supervisor at El Badil, told CPJ. In the weeks before his arrest, his coverage included a piece about negligence in public hospitals, as well as alleged government negligence in searching for survivors of a sunken fishing boat.
The Hisham Mubarak Law Center, which provides legal assistance in cases involving violations of human rights in Egypt, filed a complaint to the general prosecutor stating that Anwar was being illegally detained and subject to torture, according to news reports this week. The story of Anwar’s detention and disappearance has been covered in Arabic news reports. A video which includes testimony from al-Khedry was published on El Badil‘s website on Monday.
“There are no known charges against him, and even if there were, he should not be treated in this way,” Saeed told CPJ. “We are afraid for his life.”