Egyptian human rights activist fears for his life

"Because of my work against the traffickers and my interviews given to the press, I will soon be killed," says Hamdy al-Azazy,

Egyptian protester in gas mask 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egyptian protester in gas mask 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ROME/EL ARISH – June 25, 2012. The Egyptian activist, Hamdy al-Azazy, winner of the 2011 Makwan Prize for Human Rights, has informed us that he fears his life is in danger. The human rights defender from Arish (North Sinai Governorate, Egypt) has received death threats from the traffickers in African refugees and human organs after reporting them to the Egyptian authorities and international institutions numerous times.
Azazy has documented and reported to the Egyptian authorities, the UN and the EU institutions the names and locations of the hideouts and meeting places of criminals such as Abu Senia (owner of the “Ghazala” in the center of Arish, pictured), Abu Musa, Abu Ahmed, Abu Khaled and many others.
The Egyptian activist, president of the New Generation Foundation for Human Rights of Arish, is the main collaborator and observer for EveryOne Group regarding the phenomenon of human and organ trafficking in Sinai. Thanks to his reports, and the witness statements and photographs he has collected, it has been possible to identify the prison camps in which the African migrants (usually very young people) are being held.
The prisoners are subjected to every kind of torture and humiliation – often while their relatives abroad are listening to their cries of despair at the end of the telephone line – until the ransom is paid that allows them to be released on the border with Israel. Those who try to escape are killed in cold blood, while the women prisoners are repeatedly raped, often in front of their husbands and brothers.
If relatives are unable to pay the ransom demanded (from $20,000 to $50,000 dollars according to which gang is holding them) the young people are transferred to the organ market and are killed during the removal of their kidneys.
Many corpses without kidneys have been found in the Sinai Desert, while most of the bodies are burned.
THOUSANDS OF young people from Eritrea, Ethiopia and other sub-Saharan nations have disappeared into thin air in recent years. Azazy, working closely with EveryOne Group, ICER, the NGO Gandhi, America Team for Displaced Eritreans and other humanitarian organizations, has obtained the publication of many articles that show the horrors taking place in Sinai, and later the release of several groups of hostages.
The Egyptian activist worked alongside EveryOne Group and the CNN to produce the documentary Death in the Desert, which broadcast images of the martyrdom of the refugees in Sinai throughout the world. After the documentary was shown, hundreds of refugees were released and – again under Azazy’s supervision – a Beduin task force against human trafficking was created. Working alongside the authorities, the task force, with Azazy’s constant presence, led to the release of more groups and the arrest of several traffickers.
Unfortunately, the criminals were soon released, as they are connected to the jihadist movement. Most of the proceeds from trafficking in human beings and organs, in fact, goes to finance fundamentalist armed groups, primarily Hamas.
Many leaders in this trafficking are Hamas fighters: Abu Khaled, Abu Ahmed, Abu Musa and others. The Israeli intelligence services are aware of these connections and of the presence of Hamas in Arish and all over Sinai, just as they are aware of the fact that the arms traffickers, the owners of the tunnels that link Egypt to the Gaza Strip and the migrant and organ traffickers are the same people.
The progressive affirmation of fundamentalist movements in the new Egypt, culminating in the political victories of the Muslim Brotherhood, has gradually reduced the pressure from the police, army and intelligence services on the traffickers in human beings in the Sinai.
CURRENTLY, ABOUT 1,500 refugees from Eritrea and other sub-Saharan countries are in the hands of traffickers who are asking the families of the hostages as much as $50,000 per head to ensure their release. The police are no longer taking effective action against their activities, and the Beduin task force created last year to combat the trafficking in human organs and slaves has disbanded (after losing the support of the Egyptian government), leaving the Sinai in the hands of local mafias.
“I feel that because of my work against the traffickers and my interviews given to the press, I will soon be killed,” Azazy writes to us, “pray for me.”
The most recent anti-trafficking interview given by the activist appeared yesterday in the pages of the newspaper Al-Ahram. EveryOne Group has reported the plight of Hamdy Al-Azazy to the international organization Front Line Defenders (which protects nonviolent activists around the world) and to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
“Hamdy’s work is crucial, because at least the horrors of the Sinai are being documented and reported,” said Every- One in its statement. “It is essential that the humanitarian institutions that protect the work of human rights defenders take urgent action to prevent Hamdy being harmed by the lords of refugee trafficking in Africa and the Islamic fundamentalism which profits from these criminal activities.”
Today EveryOne Group contacted the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Egyptian authorities and the EU institutions to organize relief action that will prevent the traffickers and fundamentalist movements harming the courageous human rights defender from Arish.
The writer is an Italian writer and journalist, author of essays and articles on the Holocaust and contemporary history. He is also a defender of human rights, co-president of EveryOne Group. (It is reprinted with the author’s permission and was translated by Glenys Robinson.)