Egypt: National Security, Public Prosecution, and Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital implicated in suspicious death of economist Ayman Hadhoud

In Egypt /Road Map Program, Statements and Position Papers by CIHRS

The undersigned human rights organizations demand follow-up on the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of prominent economist Ayman Hadhoud, which was announced by his family on 9 April.  The family received a call from a police officer informing them of Ayman’s death and asking that they retrieve his body from the morgue at Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital, which they did on 11 April. The undersigned organizations condemn all parties involved in concealing the truth behind the circumstances of Ayman Hadhoud’s death and his preceding detention, starting with Egypt’s National Security and Public Prosecution, and the Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital. Evidence indicates criminal violations behind Ayman’s death, as he was alive on the evening of 6 February when he was arrested on charges of alleged theft.

According to information gathered from Ayman’s family, the Public Prosecution’s investigations,  and sources in Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital, the events developed as follows:

Ayman Hadhoud’s family had lost contact with him since 5 February 2022, when he last met with his brother Omar. While the family was seeking legal avenues to report Ayman’s disappearance, on 8 February an officer from the Amiriya Police Department, the district where his family resides, arrived at the family home and requested his brothers’ presence at the station. Ayman’s brother Adel and a family friend went to the police station where they were met by a National Security officer named Yassin Mustafa, who asked them several questions about Ayman, his workplace, and his studies and activities; they were also asked about Ayman’s other brothers and their workplaces. At the end of the meeting,  they were told that Ayman was being held by National Security, and that they will be contacted if more information was needed.

Before his arrest – as confirmed by sources close to him – Ayman Hadhoud was troubled by security interference in politics, which favored the elevation of businessmen and the wealthy over popular representatives.  He may have expressed this opinion in writing on his laptop or mobile phone, thus indicating potential retaliation on the part of the National Security officers who unlawfully detained and interrogated him. Ayman’s family was informed that he did not have any belongings on him at the time of his arrest, and the family did not retrieve his laptop or mobile phone.

Given that they obtained information directly from National Security about Ayman, the family opted not to submit an official report of his disappearance and to rely instead on mediation and informal efforts, whether from family friends or from the political party  to which he belonged, the liberal Reform and Development Party.  Ayman Hadhoud was also a former economic advisor to Mohamed Sadat, a member of the National Council for Human Rights and nephew of the late President Anwar Sadat , which was thought to potentially give him clout amid informal negotiation efforts intended to lead to his release while averting indictment in a political case. Ayman’s family told mediators that before he had been detained, they had feared he would be harmed, given that Ayman had recently suffered from psychological distress.

On 17 February, the family received unofficial information from a family friend that Ayman was being held at the Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital, where was admitted three days prior. According to the Public Prosecution’s investigations, Ayman was admitted to hospital on  14 February, meaning that he was in National Security custody for seven days without being transferred to the hospital.

Despite their persistent search for information about Ayman Hadhoud at the Public Prosecution, family and friends were not given any indication that he had been charged with any crime.  Then Ayman’s family attempted to visit him at the Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital, on the basis of unofficial mediation, and none of Ayman’s family, friends and colleagues were able to see him.  On 23 February, the hospital director informed one of his friends that Ayman was in good health and under observation at the request of the security authorities, thus a security permit or a permit from the Public Prosecution was required to visit him, and furthermore, the forensic science department was not under the authority of the hospital. The hospital director also told the family friend that Ayman Hadhoud has been charged in a criminal case with attempted car theft in Sinbillawain (a city in the Delta region). At the same time, National Security had stopped providing any information about Ayman’s fate and told the mediators that they had completed a security check, and that Ayman’s case was a criminal one and not within their scope.

Ayman Hadhoud’s family continued to seek information about him from the Public Prosecution as well as visit him at the Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital. In March 2022, the hospital denied  that Ayman had ever been admitted, while the Public Prosecution claimed that the name of Ayman Muhammad Ali Hadhoud was not registered as a defendant in a criminal case.

At the beginning of April, a friend of Ayman Hadhoud  was able to find out that he had died in the Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital about a month prior, and that there was no information regarding the whereabouts of his body. Ayman’s friends and colleagues began announcing that Ayman had been  forcibly disappeared and had been in the custody of National Security. His family returned to Mohamed Sadat, member of the National Council for Human Rights, and submitted a complaint dated 7 April 2022, regarding Ayman’s detention under National Security, to the President of the National Council for Human Rights, Mushira Khattab.

The family’s efforts led to a shift in National Security tactics regarding the concealment of  Ayman’s body.  National Security attempted to erase any evidence of their wrongdoing by preparing for Ayman’s  burial in a charity cemetery without notifying his relatives. On 10 April, the family sought a permit from the Public Prosecution to bury Ayman, but they were surprised to find that a permit had already been prepared to bury him in charity graves as unidentified. The family had to return to the Public Prosecution Office to cancel the permit, and the prosecution then interrogated his brothers, Adel and Abu Bakr, about the circumstances of his death.

The undersigned organizations would like to draw attention to the following points that require clarification:

  1. Whether or not the late Ayman Hadhoud suffered from mental illness is irrelevant to any of the violations inflicted upon him and culminating in his death. Even if it is true that he was delirious at the time of his arrest, this does not justify his disappearance from 5 February to 14 February in National Security headquarters, whether in the Amiriya Police Department or elsewhere, without the notification of his family. The failure to disclose Ayman’s whereabouts to his family is rendered even more suspect by the fact that his identity was known by the Public Prosecution, given that the prosecution summoned his brothers for interrogation and also issued an order to transfer Ayman to Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital on 7 February. What happened during this period remains unknown to any party other than that which detained Ayman without justification from the law. Accordingly, this party must be held accountable, and cannot be absolved of accountability on the basis of the deceased’s mental health. If Ayman were indeed suffering from mental illness or other psychological distress, this doubles the responsibility of the party that detained him.
  2. Furthermore, the focus on the mental health of Ayman Hadhoud, as if it justified the violations he incurred after his arrest, raises alarm regarding the Egyptian state’s view of mental illness as shameful and thus justifying the violation of a person’s rights. Such an outdated and harmful perspective promoted by the state only adds to the stigma against those affected by mental illness. Furthermore, Ayman was never diagnosed nor examined for a mental illness – only two of the three members of a committee evaluated him, thus disregarding the regulations safeguarding the rights of a psychiatric patient. Furthermore, mental disorders per se do not necessarily or typically lead to death, except upon a successful suicide attempt or if the cause of death resulted from brain pathology or injury, neither of which is evidenced in Ayman’s case .
  3. Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital initially denied that Ayman Hadhoud was being held there. The hospital then retracted their denial and told the family to request a visitation permit from the Public Prosecution. The Public Prosecution then denied that Ayman Hadhoud was a defendant in any case.  These inconsistencies point to the two parties’ attempts to conceal the truth regarding the circumstances surrounding Hadhoud’s death: from the moment of his arrest until his brother was informed of his death.
  4. Ayman Hadhoud died in Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital on 5 March, according to the hospital report. That is, his body was kept in the hospital morgue, which lacks freezers and only cooling containers – for over a month. Furthermore, a burial permit was issued for him in the charity cemetery as if his identity were unknown. This raises suspicions about an intent to conceal what happened to him: from the moment of his arrest, to his detention at National Security headquarters and later at the psychiatric hospital. It should further be noted that holding the corpse of an unidentified person in a hospital for such a long period is highly unusual. The fact that this was done indicates an intent for Ayman’s body to decompose to an extent which would render it difficult if not impossible for the limited forensic capabilities in Egypt to determine his cause of death.
  5. Although the preliminary forensic report has not yet been announced, the Public Prosecution announced that Ayman Hadhoud’s death was caused by an acute drop in blood pressure and cardiac arrest, which are descriptions of the circumstances of death and not the cause(s) of it. In this forensic report, which we are awaiting, it will not suffice for the Forensic Medicine Authority to repeat what was stated by the Prosecution, as a professional forensic report must include an external and internal description of the body and a set of examinations capable of discovering the cause(s) of death, even years after its occurrence. If such examinations are beyond the capacities of Egypt’s Forensic Medicine Authority to conduct, then best course of action as a professional organization is to acknowledge this reality, rather than manufacturing or repeating vague phrases that only serve to raise suspicion rather than raise knowledge of the underlying causes of Ayman Hadhoud’s untimely death.

Ayman Hadhoud, in life and in death, was subjected to severe violations of his fundamental rights: since his kidnapping to his placement in a psychiatric hospital twelve days after his disappearance and ten days after the Public Prosecution’s order to transfer him.  His body was then left to decompose in an undisclosed location for over a month before it was presented to forensics.

From the moment of Ayman Hadhoud’s forcible disappearance, a sequence of events occurred that led to the death of the prominent Egyptian economist and politician. The parties involved in the events occurring over the last days of Ayman’s life must be investigated an held accountable of any wrongdoing or crime, including National Security, the Public Prosecution, the Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital and its administration, and the Forensic Medicine Authority. Furthermore, the National Council for Mental Health and the Physicians Syndicate must uphold their role in discovering the violations committed against Ayman Hadhoud, in the interests of safeguarding the lives of Egyptian citizens as well as profession’s reputation.

Undersigned organizations:

  1. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
  2. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
  3. El Nadeem Center
  4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  5. Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF)
  6. Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)
  7. Committee for Justice (CFJ)
  8. Masaar, Technology and Law Community
  9. Freedom Initiative (FI)

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