CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s public prosecution says it has found no evidence of criminal violence in the death of an economic researcher after concluding investigations based on an autopsy report, despite concerns from human rights groups and the researcher’s family.
The prosecution’s statement said the autopsy confirmed that the researcher, Ayman Hadhoud, had died due to a chronic heart condition and that his body was free of any marks of injury.
Rights group Amnesty International said in a statement last week that its investigation based on official records, witness interviews and independent experts who examined leaked photos of Hadhoud’s corpse strongly suggested he had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated before his death.
Security services detained Hadhoud in early February before sending him to a psychiatric hospital in Cairo where he died.
Hadhoud was a freelance economic expert and member of the liberal Reform and Development Party, which has a small presence in Egypt’s parliament. His brother Omar told Reuters that Ayman had no history of mental illness, and had publicly stated views that were critical of the authorities though he had not been subject to any known investigation before his detention.
The public prosecution and interior ministry said in earlier statements that Hadhoud had been arrested after trying to break into an apartment and was sent to the hospital after behaving erratically, explanations that his family and activists have questioned.
Omar Hadhoud said the family was initially unable to establish his brother’s whereabouts and was only informed of his death on April 9, more than one month after the date authorities say he died. Lawyers for the family would submit a request for a review of the autopsy, he said.
Asked for comment, Egypt’s state information service referred to a statement by the government-appointed National Council for Human Rights saying it had not received complaints about Hadhoud’s alleged forced disappearance before news of his death, but had subsequently called for an investigation.
A group of 17 Egyptian and international rights groups expressed alarm last week at Hadhoud’s death and called for a thorough, transparent and independent investigation.
“We reiterate our call for Egyptian authorities to immediately halt its practice of enforced disappearance, abusive use of pretrial detention, negligence of detainees’ health conditions, and obstruction of due process,” the groups said.
There has been a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent in Egypt since then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led the overthrow of democratically elected president Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.
Rights groups say tens of thousands of Islamists and liberal dissidents have been detained over recent years and many have been denied due process or been subjected to abuse or poor prison conditions.
Italian prosecutors have blamed Egyptian security officials over the death of Italian postgraduate student Giulio Regeni, who disappeared in Cairo in 2016. His body was found almost a week later and a post-mortem examination showed he had been extensively tortured before his death.
Egyptian police and officials have repeatedly denied any involvement in Regeni’s disappearance and killing.
Officials say security measures were needed to stabilise Egypt. They deny the existence of political prisoners and mistreatment of prisoners, and assert that the judiciary is independent.
The public prosecution’s latest statement urged people not to be drawn in by “rumours and false news” and to be wary of those with “hidden intentions”.
(Reporting by Cairo bureau, Editing by William Maclean)