Egypt: Irish national acquitted, hundreds sentenced following grossly unfair mass trial
The acquittal of Irish national Ibrahim Halawa by a Cairo criminal court today, after a grossly unfair mass trial involving 494 defendants, brings his four year ordeal to an end said Amnesty International, emphasizing the need for 442 other defendants in the case, who were sentenced to between five years and life imprisonment, to be re-tried in line with international due process standards or released.
Ibrahim Halawa was arrested aged 17 along with more than 330 others during protests which erupted into violence on 16 and 17 August 2013 around al-Fath Mosque in Cairo when at least 97 protesters were killed.
There is no evidence that Ibrahim Halawa was involved in the violence and Amnesty International believes he was detained solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
“Today’s acquittal of Ibrahim Halawa after four years in unlawful detention comes as a welcome relief but is long overdue. He is a prisoner of conscience who should never have been detained in the first place,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Research Director at Amnesty International.
“Ibrahim Halawa’s acquittal puts an end to the gross injustice in his case. However, it is utterly disgraceful that at the same time the Egyptian authorities have handed out heavy sentences to 442 others after sham proceedings in a mass trial that flouted the most basic standards of a fair trial, while security forces who used excessive and lethal force during protests that day have escaped unpunished.”
Amnesty International is calling for any other defendants in the case who were detained and sentenced for peacefully exercising their legitimate rights to be immediately released.
The organization analysed the casefile and spoke to at least five lawyers working on the case. It found that the court had relied entirely on unsound reports by security forces and investigations conducted by the National Security Agency as a basis for the convictions.
According to an audio-visual evidence report sent by the Ministry of Interior to the court, out of the 330 defendants who have been detained in the case for more than four years, only two of the defendants appear to have evidence against them.
“This trial has been a cruel farce from start to finish. From relying on questionable testimonies to dismissing key evidence and depriving the defendants of the proper means of defending themselves, these proceedings expose the deep flaws in Egypt’s notorious criminal justice system,” said Najia Bounaim.
“All those convicted for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly must be released immediately. Those against whom there is sufficient admissible evidence should either be retried in fair proceedings that meet international fair trials standards and without the possibility of the death penalty or released.”
The trial took place in a courtroom inside Wadi al-Natroun prison around 110Km North of Cairo. Lawyers told Amnesty International that during the trial defendants were held behind a glass screen prohibiting them from hearing the proceedings or being able to participate in the trial. Trying defendants inside a prison also undermines their presumption of innocence.
The court today sentenced 43 defendants to life imprisonment (25 years under Egyptian law), 399 defendants were sentenced to between five and 15 years and 52 were acquitted including Ibrahim Halawa. The case involved 494 defendants among whom 333 were in detention. Those sentenced in absentia can appeal the verdict and be retried before the same court while those sentenced in their presence can appeal the decision before the court of Cassation.