On 20 February 2019, Egypt executed nine men accused of killing the country’s former top prosecutor, bringing the total of those executed in the country to 15 in less than three weeks. The men were among 28 sentenced to death for the murder of Hisham Barakat, Egypt’s former public prosecutor, who was assassinated when a car bomb struck his vehicle in 2015. Several of the men said they were forcibly disappeared and tortured in order to confess to the killing.
One of them, Mahmoud al-Ahmadi, was filmed telling a judge at the hearing: “Give me an electric probe and I’ll make anyone confess to assassinating [the late President Anwar] Sadat. We have been electrocuted so much we could power Egypt for 20 years.”
Last year, the Court of Cassation upheld the decision against the nine men and commuted the sentence of six others to life imprisonment. 13 other men were convicted in absentia, and one of them was forcibly returned to Egypt from Turkey in January.
“This trial was a monument to unfair trials in Egypt,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s North Africa Campaigns Director in a press release. “You can see from the start that many of those convicted were forcibly disappeared at the beginning, then tortured into giving confessions.”
Egyptian criminal courts have sentenced hundreds of people to death in cases stemming from alleged political violence since July 2013, when the military overthrew the country’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi. This year alone, 15 people have been executed after trials marred by claims of torture.
Three were hanged this month for their involvement in the 2014 killing of a judge’s son in the Nile Delta town of Mansura, north of Cairo. Another three were put to death for killing a police officer in Cairo in September 2013. Rights groups denounced the executions, saying the men were sentenced to death after being subjected to torture and beatings to extract confessions.
The arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, and illegal death sentences inflicted by the Egyptian government on thousands of people have had a catastrophic effect on the country and constitute a human rights crisis in their own right.
“These executions are a stark demonstration of the government’s increasing use of the death penalty, bringing the total number of death sentences implemented in the past three weeks to 15. Egyptian authorities must urgently halt this bloody execution spree which has seen them repeatedly putting people to death after grossly unfair trials in recent weeks,” Bounaim said.
The use of the death penalty, forced disappearances and torture have spiked since the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, swept to power in a military coup in 2013, with many of the death sentences issued to civilians subjected to military trials.
Between 2011 and 2013, Egypt sentenced 323 people to death but carried out only one execution. Since Sisi took power, statistics compiled by Reprieve indicate that between January 2014 and February 2018, courts recommended death sentences for at least 2,159 individuals, and the state carried out at least 83 executions. The Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights estimated that at least 32 people were executed in 2018, with over 600 death sentences issued in the first eleven months of last year.
Reprieve Director Maya Foa said in a statement: “As these latest executions show, President [Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi’s use of the death penalty is now a full-blown human rights crisis.”
This increase in death sentences is attributable largely to the advent of mass trials. Courts have begun sentencing dozens of defendants to death at the same time – on four separate occasions since 2013, courts have recommended death sentences for more than 100 people at once.
UN human rights experts have repeatedly noted that these trials are “not good enough for the imposition of the death penalty,” and describing death sentences in Egypt as “a mockery of justice,” “in breach of the ICCPR,” and “a staggering violation of international human rights law.”
In July 2013, thousands of people took to Egypt’s streets to protest the disposal of President Mohamed Morsi and to call for his reinstatement. Sisi, the man who seized power, responded with extreme force, embarking on a campaign to crush dissent. The state has implemented a series of measures designed specifically to suppress political opposition, justifying them as necessary for the security and stability of the nation and the crackdown has been marked by arbitrary arrests, indefinite detention, torture, mass trials and an increasing use of the death penalty.