Egypt: 49 executions in 10 days

Mass executions follow suspicious prison killings

Egyptian authorities executed 15 men convicted for alleged involvement in three cases of political violence as well as 2 women and 32 men convicted in criminal cases between October 3 and 13, 2020, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately halt executions, and re-try those sentenced to death in grossly unfair trials.

Thirteen of the 15 men charged with political violence had been held in Cairo’s Scorpion Prison. Their executions follow a suspicious incident inside Scorpion’s death row ward on September 23 in which Interior Ministry forces killed four prisoners after those prisoners killed four security personnel. Authorities alleged the prisoners were trying to escape.

“Egypt’s mass executions of scores of people in a matter of days is outrageous,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The systematic absence of fair trials in Egypt, especially in political cases, makes every death sentence a violation of the right to life.” The government typically does not announce executions, or even inform the prisoner’s family.

On October 13, the pro-government Al-Masry al-Youm newspaper published the names of eight prisoners executed in the Maximum-Security Prison in Minya governorate, south of Cairo, including a woman. On October 6, pro-government newspaper Al-Watan said authorities in Cairo Isti’naf Prison carried out 11 executions, including a woman, convicted in criminal cases. Al-Watan reported on October 3 that authorities executed eight prisoners and on October 8 another seven in Alexandria, in murder and rape cases.

The Kerdasa and Alexandria Library cases stem from violent events coinciding with the August 14, 2013 violent dispersal of the largely peaceful Rab’a sit-in protesting the army’s removal of President Mohamed Morsy, a day in which security forces probably killed over 1,000 protesters.

The Kerdasa case involved violent protests and an armed attack by a mob on the Kerdasa police station, killing its warden and 12 other Interior Ministry officers and soldiers, and mutilating an officer’s body. A terrorism court sentenced 183 out of 188 defendants in a grossly unfair mass trial. The Cassation Court, Egypt’s highest appeal court, overturned the ruling in February 2016 and ordered a retrial before a different terrorism court, which in July 2017 sentenced 20 to death, 80 to life in prison, acquitted 21, and sentenced the rest to long prison terms. The Cassation Court upheld these sentences in September 2018. Seventeen of the 20 sentenced to death remained on death row.

Nine leading Egyptian human rights organizations said in a 2018 statement that authorities ignored basic fair trial guarantees, including access to legal counsel and the need to establish individual criminal responsibility.

In the Alexandria Library case, authorities charged 71 people following violent protests near the library and killings of 16 people, including an officer and two soldiers, in different incidents. In September 2015, a criminal court in Alexandria sentenced three defendants to death, one of them in absentia, and the rest to prison. The Cassation Court upheld the death sentences in July 2017 and acquitted four defendants. Human Rights Watch reviewed 66 pages of the case file comprising the indictment and the evidence, mainly unsubstantiated allegations by security officers with scant material evidence that two executed, Yasser Shokr and Yasser al-Abasiery, were responsible for the killings.

Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt has become one of the top 10 countries for executions and death sentences. Those arrested for alleged political violence frequently face a host of abuses including enforced disappearances, torture to extract confessions, and no access to lawyers. In an examination of 28 death sentence cases since 2016, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights found that authorities had forcibly disappeared 198 people, and 212 said they had been tortured. The majority of those sentenced to death were convicted in military or terrorism court trials that do not meet fair trial standards.

Authorities routinely add dozens, sometimes hundreds, of defendants to a case without justification. Mass trials, which became the norm after 2013 in political cases, do not allow sufficient time to present a defense or to establish individual criminal responsibility.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. In 2017, Human Rights Watch said that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and other officials should issue a moratorium on the death penalty in view of the sharp rise in the number of death sentences and the failure to pass a comprehensive transitional justice law.

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