The last time anyone heard from Yamen Zakaria was at 2.10am on 7 August.
He was driving home with two friends after they had been to the cinema in Cairo’s north-east suburb of Nasr City to watch Baby Driver when they were stopped by police at a checkpoint, Yamen’s older brother Yehia told Middle East Eye.
According to his family, Yamen, 22, had sent a text message at about 1.30am to tell them that he had been delayed but didn’t seem worried at the time.
Less than an hour later, he sent another text to say that he, along with his two friends, had been taken to Nasr City police station.
“Yamen was trying to keep us in the loop in order to keep us calm, but we were worried sick from the time he sent his first text message,” Yehia said.
Yamen made a short phone call to his brother Yehia, a 31-year-old junior doctor, to say that he was still at the police station.
His family have not heard from him since. Yamen’s friends have also not been seen.
Yamen’s flat was raided and searched by Cairo police a few hours later, but nothing was taken, his family said.
When Yamen had not returned home by daybreak, the family reported the incident of his disappearance to the prosecutor general, the Egyptian minister of interior and the mayor of Cairo – all routine procedure, according to Yehia, when a person goes missing.
The family also sent lawyers to Madinet Nasr police station to ask about Yamen’s whereabouts but they were sent back and told that he was not there.
Although they believe Yamen is in police custody, his family and friends have since launched a call for help via social media using the hashtag #Where_is_Yamen to encourage anyone with information about his whereabouts to come forward.
“We just want to make sure that he’s okay,” said Yehia. “Then we can figure out why he’s been detained at all. We just haven’t a clue why he’s been arrested so we can’t even plan what to do in order to help him.”
Forced disappearances become normal
Forced disappearances have risen in Egypt during the past two years, with Amnesty International reporting in 2016 that “hundreds of students, political activists and protesters, including children as young as 14, vanish without trace at the hands of the state”.
But Yamen’s family were shocked by the news of his disappearance, because according to them he is not a political nor a human rights activist.
“I know that this is something that happens all the time in Egypt nowadays but there must have been a mistake because Yamen is not an activist on any level,” said Yehia, who has rejected calls from NGOs which work on human rights and political freedoms in Egypt to launch a campaign for his brother.
Amnesty also issued a report in July 2016 that Egypt’s national security agency is abducting, torturing and forcibly disappearing people to intimidate opponents and wipe out peaceful dissent, causing an unprecedented spike in enforced disappearances since early 2015.
“It seems [ that] being dedicated to your work and nothing else is still incriminating in Egypt nowadays,” said Yehia. “It is as if Yamen is being punished just for being an Egyptian.”
Despite the outpouring of support from family and friends, Yamen’s family has been left distraught by some messages from the wider public.
“We’ve received many messages from people who’ve been telling us not to worry because this is normal and that being a young guy, a bit of slap on the back [torture] wouldn’t be problem,” said Yehia. “I feel even more troubled by the fact that people think this is normal.”
And while Yamen’s family are hopeful that he will be released soon, they are worried about the impact this experience may have on him.
“Even if this whole ordeal comes to an end soon, Yamen is a very sensitive person and I’m worried about how this may affect him in the long term,” Yehia told MEE.
“I’ve never seen my father as anything but strong and composed. For the first time in my life I’ve seen him break down in tears of complete despair.”
Source/Middle East Eye