Egypt: Seven men facing imminent execution after being tortured in custody
The Egyptian authorities must immediately stop the imminent executions of seven men sentenced to death in two grossly unfair trials, said Amnesty International calling on them to refer the case to the senior judges at Egypt’s highest appeals court, the Court of Cassation. The organization had recently warned that legal amendments passed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi limiting the appeal process before the court could contribute to an spike in death sentences and executions in the country.
At least six of the men were forcibly disappeared and tortured to obtain “confessions” that were later used by a criminal court in Mansoura to convict them of murdering a police officer and setting up a “terrorist” organization. The verdict was upheld by the Court of Cassation last week. In a separate case, another man is facing imminent execution after losing his final appeal before the same court. He was convicted, following a grossly unfair trial, of killing a man during a protest in Alexandria.
“Regardless of what the men may have been involved in, forcibly disappearing suspects and torturing them into confessing is not justice. The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. No one should be deprived of their right to life, no matter how horrific the crimes they have been accused of are,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.
“Time is running out to save these men’s lives, they can be executed at any time. The Egyptian authorities must immediately halt these executions and order a fair re-trial for the seven men, without resorting to the death penalty or relying on torture-tainted evidence.”
On 7 June Egypt’s Court of Cassation, upheld death sentences against Bassem el-Khereby, Ahmed Meshaly, Ibrahim Azab, Mahmoud Wahba, Khaled Askar, and Abd el-Rahman Atteia after a deeply flawed trial. The man they are accused of murdering was a police guard of one of the judges sitting on a panel on a trial of President Mohamed Morsi. The President has 14 days to reduce the sentence before a final execution date is set.
The men’s lawyers submitted a final appeal to the Public Prosecution on 15 June requesting a retrial, based on the due process errors in the trial. If it is accepted, the case will be examined by the most senior judges at the Court of Cassation.
According to their families and lawyers, they were arrested by the National Security Agency (NSA) in March 2014 and forcibly disappeared for periods of between three days and three months cutting off their access to their relatives, lawyers and the outside world while being tortured to obtain videotaped “confessions”. They were held in different locations across the country including the NSA headquarters in Cairo.
At least three of the families told Amnesty International that they only learnt their sons had been detained when they saw them “confessing” on TV with bruised faces. When the families were finally allowed to visit their sons in prison they told them that they had been tortured by being anally raped repeatedly using a wooden stick, given electric shocks on the genitals and other parts of the body, suspended in stress positions for periods of up to four days. They said that NSA officers had burned them in the neck with cigarette butts and threatened to rape their mothers and sisters in order to pressure them to confess.
The men later retracted their confessions before a state security prosecutor in Cairo, explaining they had been tortured. But they were then returned to the NSA where they were tortured again as punishment for withdrawing their statements and sent back to the prosecutor for a second time where they “confessed” fearing further reprisals.
The men’s lawyers also told Amnesty International that they were denied access to legal representation during interrogation and the verdicts relied entirely on evidence extracted through torture and flawed investigations by the NSA. The court also ignored forensic evidence indicating that at least two of the men had bruises and burns on their bodies inflicted during their detention and repeatedly refused to refer defendants to the Forensic Medical Authority to investigate their torture allegations.
Although the Court of Cassation accepted the appeal and reviewed the case incidents, it did not set a trial date to allow the lawyers to present their defence in court. In addition, the court applied recently adopted draconian legal amendments to the appeal system before the court which abolished the defendant’s right to a retrial and reduced the appeals to one stage instead of two paving the way for more death sentences and executions.
The Court of Cassation also upheld a death sentence against Fadl Abdel Mawla in April 2017 in a separate case. He had been convicted after, a grossly unfair trial, of killing a Coptic man during a protest in Alexandria on 15 August 2013 and is also at risk of execution at any time. His lawyer said he was ill-treated by the NSA in the Alexandria security directorate in a failed attempt to force him to confess.
Lawyers told Amnesty International that to convict him the court relied entirely on the testimony of one witness, whom lawyers and local rights groups say was pressured into testifying by an NSA officer. His lawyers also presented to the court official documents stating that Fadl Abdel Mawla had been at work during the time of the protest. They have appealed to the public prosecutor, requesting a retrial. If their appeal is accepted, the case will be looked into by the most senior judges of the Court of Cassation.
Egypt’s use of the death penalty has increased sharply since 2013, when no executions were recorded and 109 people were sentenced to death. The number of executions increased from 15 in 2014 to 22 in 2015 and doubled to reach 44 in 2016. The number of people sentenced to death rose to 509 in 2014 and 538 in 2015 before falling to 237 in 2016.