Australian disappears in Egypt ahead of release after being jailed for over a year

Australian man Hazem Hamouda has “vanished” in Egypt after failing to turn up at a police station where he was due to be released after languishing in one of Egypt’s most notorious prisons for more than a year without charge or evidence.

Mr Hamouda, 54, who was arrested at Cairo International Airport on January 25 — also the anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian uprisings — was accused of sympathising with the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood for allegedly spreading false news on social media.

His children maintain that their father, an Australian-Egyptian dual national from Brisbane, has no association with the banned organisation and have been campaigning for his release.

Amid growing international awareness of Mr Hamouda’s case, the prosecutor-general of Egypt ordered his release earlier this week, but he was not brought to the appointed police station on the day.

“We were so excited when the Department of Foreign Affairs contacted us to tell us Dad would be released with all charges dropped,” his eldest daughter Lamisse Hamouda said.

“So when Dad wasn’t at the police station and no-one knew where he was, we were beyond crushed.

“To think he has been disappeared after believing he was going to come home is a nightmare inside the nightmare we’ve already lived for the past year.”

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson, Mr Hamouda’s barrister in London, said his disappearance raised “grave concerns” for his safety and security.

They are calling for Egypt to provide information about his whereabouts and for his immediate release.

“Mr Hamouda has already been unjustly and arbitrarily detained for over a year,” the lawyers said.

“There is no lawful basis for his continued detention.”

In Egypt, a person can be held behind bars for up to 150 days without charge or evidence while they are investigated — or 15 days renewed up to 10 times. After this initial period, the case is then reviewed every 45 days.

Peter Greste, an Australian journalist who also spent over a year in Tora Prison, said he was “incredibly worried” about the news that Mr Hamouda had “vanished” after his charges were apparently dropped.

“After more than a year in prison with no obvious evidence of wrongdoing, Hazem’s detention was a travesty of justice from the outset,” he said.

“This latest development is not only an additional torment for the family and undoubtedly for Hazem himself, but it also confirms what we have always believed — that these kinds of actions by individuals within Egypt’s judicial system seem to be untethered from any common understanding of justice, and so the judiciary and its work cannot be treated with respect.”

He said he urged Foreign Minister Marise Payne to find Mr Hamouda and return him to his family.