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Egypt: Quash death sentences in torture-tainted grossly unfair mass trial

Responding to today’s verdict by the First Terrorism Circuit in Cairo Criminal Court against 206 defendants, sentencing 10 people to death and 153 people to between 10 years and life in prison, Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

“Today’s verdict is an insult to justice. This was a mass trial of more than 200 people. The case has been marred by enforced disappearances and torture, including of children. The Egyptian authorities denied the defendants access to their lawyers throughout the pretrial and trial proceedings. Some have been banned from seeing their families since 2016. Most have been detained at the notorious al-Aqrab and Tora Maximum Security Two Prison in cruel and inhuman conditions, amounting to torture.

“The authorities must investigate all allegations of enforced disappearances and torture, and immediately allow all detainees access to their families, lawyers and adequate medical care. Given the flagrant fair trial breaches in this case, authorities must quash the verdict and order the release of detainees, most of whom had been held for over two years in pretrial detention in contravention of Egyptian law. If charged with internationally recognizable offences, they must be granted fair retrials without recourse to the death penalty.

“Sentencing 10 men to death, especially following such grossly unfair proceedings, is a violation of the right to life. The authorities must immediately declare a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and refrain from issuing death sentences as first steps towards abolition.”

Background

In February 2015, the Supreme State Security Prosecution referred over 200 people to trial over various charges including terrorism, destruction of property and murder. Also known as the “Helwan Brigades” case, the trial revolves around a group that emerged in August 2014 and claimed responsibility for attacks on the police. At least four of the detainees were under 18 at the time of their arrest. One of them, Youssef Samir, was 16 when he was arrested in July 2014 and subjected to enforced disappearance for over two months. Amnesty International learned that during this period National Security Agency officers tortured him through electric shocks and beating. Five defendants died in prison amid reports of being denied adequate medical care. The court acquitted the other 43 defendants.

At least 356 people were sentenced to death by Egyptian courts in 2021, the highest number of death sentences that Amnesty International was able to record worldwide in 2021, excluding China.