More than 1,200 Egyptians have been reported missing since 25 January 2011, human rights campaigners said on Saturday as they launched an initiative to track down the disappeared.
The campaign, 'We Will Find Them,' plans to create a database with full details of all those who have gone missing since the start of the January 2011 uprising.
Some of the missing are thought to have been participating in anti-regime protests and may have been arrested, while other disappearances have little explanation.
"We want to know whether they are alive or dead. To do so we need to collect detailed data," said Ahmed Seif El-Islam, a prominent human rights lawyer involved with the project.
But some attending the Cairo press conference announcing the campaign claimed the true number of missing Egyptians is far greater than announced.
"I am the mother of one of the missing. But they are not 1,200, they are much more. We [the families of those lost] go to all the prisons, hospitals and morgues to ask about them. We are always told they are not here," shouted one woman.
Those the campaign lists as missing have not been found in prison records, hospital records or morgues, places frequented by parents in their increasingly desperate attempts to find loved ones.
"I am sure my son is in prison, but I do not know where," said the mother of 25-year old Mohamed Sediq.
"He went missing on the day of rage [28 January 2011] but called me on 11 February to say he was detained. His phone was switched off after that and we've never heard from him again."
Rights activist Hossam Bahgat, speaking at the event, said Egyptians have been held unreported in prisons. Some were later found dead in their cells.
In June 2011, Egypt's then prime minister Essam Sharaf announced the burial of 19 unidentified bodies that had been collected in morgues since January's uprisings. These included men in prison uniforms, Bahgat said.
Relatives of several Egyptians detained in prisons were told in April 2011 the whereabouts of their family members but were denied the right to visit, Bahgat said. Shortly afterwards news emerged that they had died in prison.
The campaigner called for these incidents to be properly investigated.
Two prisons in Egypt remain out-of-bounds for lawyers, according to Seif, and no information is available on their practices or the inmates. The locations are the responsibility of Egypt's general intelligence, not the state's prison services.
"If he is dead let us know," was a plea repeated time and again by the relatives of the missing who attended Saturday's event.
"Not to reveal the fate of those missing is a much worse crime than the killing itself," said Bahgat.
One example given was Mohamed El-Shafie, a 23-year old conscript who was stopped at random at a military checkpoint in the town of Dashour on 30 January 2011 while on a 10-day furlough.
El-Shafie was not carrying his ID card at the time. His cousins, briefly arrested with him, were told they could pick him up at the nearby Haram police station if they brought his identification.
When his cousins later went to the police station they were told no-one of his name was detained there. El-Shafie was never seen again.
The father of Yasser Abdel-Fattah, a teenager who went missing during the clashes on Cairo's Mohamed Mahmoud Street in late November, said his son was grabbed by the army while on his way to buy a school uniform from the shops downtown.
"They were collecting the youth from the streets," Abdel-Fattah's father was told by bystanders when he was looking for his son.
More than 10 per cent of the missing are minors according to the campaign's data. Those underage usually do not have identity cards.
So far only one minor has emerged after a year-long disappearance, telling of a hellish spell in military prisons replete with torture and sexual assault.
One attendee at Saturday's event, journalist Wael Qandil, sounded a note of optimism in his declaration that Egypt's new president Mohamed Morsi, who himself spent time in prison, would not remain silent when it comes to such injustices.
President Morsi has called for the formation of a 10-member committee to investigate the cases of Egyptians facing military trials.
He has yet to call for an official investigation into the more than a thousand Egyptians believed to be missing.(ahram)