In March and April 2014, the Minya Criminal Court referred the case files of 529 defendants to Egypt’s Grand Mufti his advisory opinion on the death penalty and followed the same procedure in another case with 683 defendants charged in connection with the events at the Adwa police station. These two judgments marked the beginning of a series of mass death sentences issued by civilian courts, military tribunals, and terrorism circuits over the last seven years. Regrettably, many of these sentences were carried out after all avenues for litigation were exhausted. As a result, Egypt is now ranked number three in the world for the number of death sentences issued and executed. From January to June 2021, the authorities executed 80 people, among them 17 charged in political cases in 2013 and 63 people charged in 25 other criminal cases.
Executions became more frequent in 2020. According to documentation by rights groups, the Egyptian authorities executed at least 48 people in 13 separate cases from the beginning of 2020 to the end of September the same year. In October 2020 alone, the authorities put to death at least 57 men and women, or about twice as many executions recorded for all of 2019. According to Amnesty International, this may be an undercount, since the Egyptian authorities neither release information about the execution of death sentences nor inform defendants’ families and lawyers before implementing death sentences.
Currently other defendants are awaiting execution after the Court of Cassation upheld the death sentence in several cases, a few months ago against 12 people charged in case no. 2985/2015/East Cairo Plenary, which is related to the bloody dispersal of the sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in August 2013. Most of these rulings were based on grossly biased national security and intelligence investigations.
Military tribunals have increasingly issued death sentences against civilian defendants since 2014, many of which have been carried out. From 2015 to mid-2020, 43 people were executed people following conviction for terrorist acts in military courts. According to a joint rights report that documented and analyzed eight military cases ending in death sentences, the trials were marred by numerous due process violations and the infringement of defendants’ rights before and during the trial, most importantly: the violation of the right to a trial before an impartial, independent court by infringing the jurisdiction of courts hearing these cases, and the violation of defense rights and the right to an attorney. The courts also disregarded defense motions to exclude evidence obtained under torture and during enforced disappearance. Criminal courts and terrorism circuit courts did not differ from the military tribunals in terms of expanding the issuance of math death sentences in trials that failed to meet minimum due process standards.
Driving its expansion of capital punishment is the Egyptian government’s tightening of its grip over the judicial system in Egypt by amending laws and introducing new ones. There are now more than 80 criminal statutes that carry the death penalty, and some allow for mass death sentences The overly broad and vague definition of terrorism used in this statute allows a person to be executed for belonging to a terrorist group even absent committing a murder or engaging in violence.
During the latest Universal Periodic Review of its rights record before the United Nations in November 2019, Egypt received 32 recommendations from 29 states (compared to five recommendations in 2014), including issuing a moratorium on executions pending the abolition of capital punishment, suspending all executions and commuting death sentences, and joining the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the abolition of the death penalty. Since the beginning of 2018, the recommendations and resolutions of the United Nations and the European Parliament, which demanded the Egyptian government to halt executions, have been reiterated, without response. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has made statements in support of the death penalty on more than one occasion. During the funeral of former public prosecutor Hisham Barakat in June 2015, the president, addressing judges, recommended the need for executions, and during the first European-Arab summit in 2019, he defended the execution of 15 people in one month, saying that this was part of the culture and values of the Arab region.
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