CAIRO — Ayman Hadhoud, a well-known liberal economist in Egypt, researched some politically delicate topics such as the military’s role in the economy before disappearing into the custody of the country’s security forces in early February. He regularly criticized the government and its economic policies on Facebook.
A month after he disappeared, he died suddenly under mysterious circumstances while in custody. But officials didn’t tell his family that he had died until more than a month after the March 5 date on his death certificate, claiming it was natural, quickly clearing themselves of any wrongdoing.
“These are lies,” said Omar Hadhoud, Mr Hadhoud’s older brother, who collected his body from the morgue and said he saw signs of abuse. “It is very clear that his head was broken. Why else would they hide him?”
Photos of his brother’s body, taken at the morgue of the mental hospital where he died and obtained by DailyExpertNews, showed injuries to his upper body, including what forensic experts believe may have been blunt trauma, as well as burns to his face and head. . Omar Hadhoud said his brother’s skull appeared to be broken.
Another person who saw the body in the morgue and witnessed the photos being taken said they also noticed visible injuries, patches of discolored skin and small brown-red spots around his face and head. The person asked not to be named for fear of government repercussions.
The photos raised suspicions that Mr Hadhoud, 48, was abused before his death. His family and human rights groups are now calling for a full, independent investigation.
Egypt’s interior ministry and the chief prosecutor, who almost never admit wrongdoing in such cases, have insisted that their own prompt investigations conclusively showed that the deaths were caused by a “sharp drop in blood circulation and cardiac arrest” and possibly a Covid- 19 infection, adding that the authorities bore no responsibility.
The government has declined to comment beyond statements from the Interior Ministry and the prosecution.
Egypt’s police and security forces have a long track record of detaining, abusing and torturing their own citizens, especially those the government considers political opponents. The country’s human rights record has drawn international criticism, condemnation and repercussions, with the United States withholding $130 million this year from its annual aid package to Egypt.
Previously, the emergence of evidence of abuse by Egypt’s security forces has sometimes sparked domestic protests or international tensions, including a police killing that sparked the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and the discovery, in 2016, of the mutilated body of an Italian doctoral student. apprentice, Giulio Regeni.
Anwar Sadat, a former MP who leads the Reform and Development Party to which Mr Hadhoud belonged and who had advised on economic policy, dismissed the authorities’ statements as “the usual answers that please no one”.
Mr Sadat is the cousin of the former president whose name he shares. He called for an investigation into Egypt’s psychiatric hospitals and the more than months-long gap between the date on Mr. Hadhoud and its official recognition.
“There are too many question marks,” he said.
Mr Hadhoud’s case sparked comparisons with that of Mr Regeni, who disappeared while investigating trade unions in Egypt and whose body was found strewn with torture marks.
“This happens over and over in Egypt,” said Ayman Nour, a prominent opposition leader living in exile and a friend of Mr. Hadhoud was. “Everyone in Egypt is vulnerable to such practices.”
Mr. Hadhoud, a researcher who grew up in a poor neighborhood of Cairo and attended the American University in Cairo on a scholarship, had worked on several politically delicate topics the year before his death, his brother said. They included what he described as bribery by members of parliament and how the military had come to dominate Egypt’s economy, suppressing competition in the private sector and collecting revenues for itself at the expense of the country’s budget.
Egyptian authorities regularly detain people for expressing themselves on social media or conducting politically charged investigations.
“He believed someone should break the barrier of silence,” said Omar Hadhoud, adding that friends and family had repeatedly warned his brother that his investigation was dangerous.
“There were no red lines for Ayman. And he paid for this with his life.”
Mr Hadhoud’s family first saw him missing on Feb. 6, Omar Hadhoud said when he didn’t return home.
In statements on April 10 and 12, authorities claimed that Ayman Hadhoud had been caught attempting to break into an apartment in Zamalek, an upscale Cairo neighborhood, the night he went missing. But he was never charged with a crime.
An April 12 statement by prosecutors claimed he had schizophrenia, with “poor concentration and attention, delusions of pursuit, delusions of grandeur” and “incomprehensible ravings”.
But Mr. Hadhoud’s brother and acquaintances said he had never been mentally ill.
On February 8, two days after he disappeared, the family learned of where he had been taken when the Egyptian state security agency informed them that he was in their custody and summoned another brother for questioning about the activities, work and family of Mr. Hadhoud, Omar Hadhoud. said.
But by then, according to prosecutors’ statement dated April 12, officers had already transferred Mr. Hadhoud to Cairo’s Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital. Although the family repeatedly inquired about his whereabouts and visited various government agencies in person, they were not told that he had been sent to the hospital, Omar Hadhoud said.
Eventually they learned through friends with contacts in the Egyptian health care that he was in Abbasiya. However, when relatives repeatedly went to the hospital, hospital staff denied that Mr Hadhoud was there or said they needed written permission from prosecutors to visit, his brother said.
It was not until April 9 that authorities officially acknowledged that Mr Hadhoud had been hospitalized when a police officer ordered the family to come and collect his body. But his death certificate, which his brother had provided, said he had passed away more than a month earlier, on March 5.
Authorities have not provided an explanation for the discrepancy.
“Without an independent, impartial investigation, Ayman’s family will never learn the truth about his disappearance or his death,” said John Hursh, program director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, a US-based human rights group, who was given the same. independent photos.
When Omar Hadhoud arrived at the hospital on April 10, he said he was first told that he could have his brother’s body buried the same day. But then he was told that authorities had suddenly ordered an autopsy a few days later.
The photos of the body of Mr. Hadhoud were taken after the autopsy. But Omar Hadhoud and another person who saw the body before the autopsy said they saw the injuries and they weren’t caused by the autopsy.
Four forensic experts who viewed the photos, which had been surreptitiously taken, warned that they were not high-resolution and only part of Mr. Hadhoud showed. Two said they could not draw any firm conclusions about how he had been injured.
But most of them agreed that the photos showed injuries to his upper body that could have been caused by blows and burns.
dr. Karen Kelly, a medical researcher and associate professor of pathology at East Carolina University, said the photos appeared to show that, before he died, Mr. Hadhoud suffered multiple minor burns to his face, possibly from cigarettes, and possibly a blow as well. in his face.
“Something happened to him before his death – possibly, probably torture,” she said. “I’m afraid it was torture.”
She also said that what appeared in the post-autopsy photos to be a relatively small incision in Mr. Hadhoud’s chest indicated that only a partial, incomplete autopsy had been performed, one that would have found no evidence of hitting his back. or other internal injuries.
Members of his family, as well as an independent expert, were not allowed to observe the autopsy, Omar Hadhoud said.
So far, authorities have rejected their requests to hand over the autopsy report.
Vivian Yee reported from Cairo, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Washington.