Report: Civilians hastily executed without due process protections by Egyptian military courts

In Egypt /Road Map Program, Thematic Reports by CIHRS

Today October 15, six independent rights organizations released a new report as part of the campaign to end capital punishment in Egypt. The report, “Military Execution,” examines the state-sponsored killing of 33 civilians between July 2013 and September 2018, following eight trials in military courts lacking basic due process guarantees, and rife with violations and irregularities.  The organizations contributing to the report demand an immediate moratorium on death sentences issued by both civilian and military courts, as a prelude to societal dialogue on the abolition of the death penalty.

Since the beginning of 2018, 175people in eleven cases have been sentenced to death in Egypt, most recently in September with a mass death sentence for 75 people in the Rabaa Dispersal Case.  In addition, the Court of Cassation upheld death sentences for at least 28 people in three separate cases this year, recently affirming the death penalty for 20 Egyptians in connection with the 2013 attack on the Kerdasa police station. Ten people have already been executed this year following six military trials, including the four Egyptians executed on January 2, 2018 after being convicted for the Kafr al-Sheikh bombing in 2015.

The report begins by reviewing Egyptian legislation that subjects dozens of crimes to the death penalty, with an eye to narrowing their vague terms and reconsidering their prescribed penalties. This is particularly urgent for statutes carrying the death penalty for unconsummated crimes, such as intention to kill or possession of weapons for a criminal purpose that was not realized. These include the Penal Code (Law 58/1937) and its amendments, the Military Code of Justice (Law 25/1966); as well as the laws regulating weapons and drugs (laws 394/1954 and 182/1960, respectively).  It also focuses on laws allowing politically sensitive cases to be heard by exceptional courts, whether military courts pursuant to Law 136/2014 on the protection of vital facilities, or before the special terrorism circuits created through decree of Interim President Adly Mansour.

This legislation laid the groundwork for the eight military trials ending with 33 civilian executions, starting with the six Egyptians executed in May 2015 in connection with the Arab Sharkas case; the first time after the January 25th 2011 revolution that a death sentence given to civilians by a military tribunal was carried out. This would only portend what would swell into an unprecedented increase in the number of Egyptian civilians executed by the state. By the beginning of this year, the Egyptian authorities had executed 27 civilians in connection with seven cases, including case no. 93/2011, where three civilians were executed on January 9 2018 – the only case in which civilians were sentenced to die by a military court for non-political charges.

Although military courts issue death sentences less frequently than the regular judiciary, these sentences are of grave concern due to the partiality of military courts and their haste in carrying out death sentences, relative to civilian courts. Of the ten cases in which death sentences were executed during the period under review, eight of them were issued by military tribunals. The Minister of Defense appoints the judges of these tribunals, leaving them with no claim to neutrality or independence.  Fundamental rights are denied, disregarded, or severely curtailed – including the rights to defense and a trial before one’s natural judge, and the principle of a public trial.  The military judicial system is also prone to extracting confessions using illegal practices such as torture and enforced disappearance, as detailed in the report.

Accordingly, the path to execution for the 33 defendants in these eight trials was paved with grave violations, with some defendants forcibly disappeared and detained incommunicado, putting them at risk of torture, inhumane treatment, coerced confessions. These trials also infringed upon the right to have a lawyer present, a key due process protection enshrined in Article 54 of the 2014 Egyptian Constitution.

The report calls on the Egyptian authorities to suspend and reconsider the death penalty and take action to amend laws codifying the death penalty – such vague and loosely-defined legislation cannot serve as the basis to deny the right to life. It further recommends for the authorities to stop infringing upon due process guarantees and violating defendants’ rights in death penalty cases, most significantly by prosecuting them before exceptional courts and circuits, such as military tribunals and terrorism circuits. Such due process violations render the death penalty in Egypt a “gross and irreversible miscarriage of justice” according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Indeed, the report’s recommendations echo those of the international community, including the UN and European Parliament, which have called on the Egyptian government to halt death sentences and executions, and refrain from using terrorism as a pretext. Only by following these recommendations can the rising tide of injustice in Egypt be curbed to prevent the arbitrary and mounting loss of civilian life.

Signatory organizations

  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  • Egyptian Front for Rights and Freedoms
  • Committee for Justice
  • Nadeem Center
  • Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
  • Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms (ACRF)

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