The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A man’s mysterious detention and death raise human rights questions in Egypt

A woman holds a placard as she stages a protest against the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi by the National Assembly in Paris on Dec. 8, 2020. F (Michel Euler/AP)

How is it that a 48-year-old prominent economics researcher can be taken into detention by Egypt’s security agencies and disappear for more than two months? How can the government explain informing the man’s family that he had died — a month earlier? These questions are haunting the friends and family of Ayman Hadhoud. How did he die and why? The questions go to the heart of Egypt’s disgraceful human rights record and answers are needed.

Hadhoud was a founder of the liberal Reform and Development Party and served as an adviser to Mohamed Anwar Esmat Sadat, the party’s co-founder, a nephew of former president Anwar Sadat. Hadhoud’s posts on social media concerned climate change and economic matters, and he was critical of the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. Hadhoud may have been suffering some kind of personal distress, the details are not clear.

He was last seen by his family on Feb. 5, according to an account by 16 human rights groups. By other accounts, police arrested him on Feb. 6 on charges of theft. The family was summoned to a police station on Feb. 8. A brother, Abel, was interrogated there about Ayman’s job and life, but not allowed to see him. According to the rights groups, the brother was told that Ayman was being held by state security.

Next, the family heard he had been transferred to the Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital and placed under observation. But they could not find him or locate hospital records showing he had been admitted, the rights groups said. Doctors later confirmed Hadhoud’s presence at the hospital and said that he had been brought in by security officials. Attempts to see or visit with him failed. According to Amnesty International, the department where he was held “functions as a detention facility controlled by the Ministry of Interior, where people are not allowed to move freely and are at great risk of torture and other ill-treatment by security officers.” On April 10, the family was informed Hadhoud had died in the hospital — back on March 5. This is an unconscionable delay.

Amnesty International consulted a forensic pathologist, Derrick Pounder, who said photos of Hadhoud’s corpse show marks on his forearms and the left side of his face that strongly suggest that he suffered repeated injuries before his death. Amnesty International reported that two eyewitnesses said they noticed injuries on Hadhoud’s face and head at the hospital mortuary on April 10, the day before an autopsy was carried out. The autopsy, according to Amnesty International, gave cause of death as a heart attack, and the government prosecutor said the death was “not suspicious.”

It is very suspicious and must be thoroughly investigated. Egypt holds thousands of political prisoners and shows utter disregard for basic human rights while accepting more than $1 billion a year in aid from the United States. Only a fraction of the aid has been withheld because of the rights abuses. More aid should be held back until Egypt ends its systemic brutality.

The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).