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Impending executions, mass trials: Egypt’s corrupt judiciary

An execution is taking place using the method of hanging [TheNewKhalij]
An execution is taking place using the method of hanging [TheNewKhalij]

Lofti Khalil was arrested outside a shop in Kafr El-Sheikh on 19 April 2015. His mother searched for him for over two months but heard nothing until eventually she was told he was in Tanta prison.

When she went to visit her son he told her he had been stripped, given electric shocks all over his body and then handcuffed and hung from the ceiling of a room known as the oven.

Khalil is one of seven men implicated in the 2015 Kafr El-Sheikh Stadium bombing when an explosive device was detonated outside the sports ground killing three military academy students as they waited for a bus.

The accused were tried before a military court in Alexandria in October the same year and then five months later sentenced to death. Khalil was one of four defendants who were present at the hearing – the other three were sentenced in absentia.

Read: Egypt issues 20 death sentences over Rabaa events

Eyewitnesses can account for at least two of the defendants. Khalil was working at the time and Ahmed Abd Al-Hady was actually arrested the day before the explosion, but this evidence was of little interest to the military court who pressed ahead with the verdict.

In 2016 Egypt’s judiciary administered 237 death sentences, more than any other country in the region. That same year, 44 people – including eight women – were executed, a figure that doubled since the previous year and has risen sharply since the coup. In 2013 no executions were recorded.

As well as facing military tribunals, defendants are often sentenced to the death penalty in mass trials in which there is no time for individual evidence to be considered properly. In March 2014 a court in Egypt’s southern city of Minya passed down 529 execution orders in one go, then just weeks later sentenced 683 to the same fate.

Those who are sentenced to death in Egypt face hanging, an ancient, barbaric form of execution that snaps the neck and breaks the spinal cord or cuts off the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain and eventually results in death.

Read: Torture in Egypt up by 16 per cent

It is a fate that Sheikh Fadl Abdel Mawla faces any day after undergoing an unfair trial for allegations that he killed a Coptic man during a protest in Alexandria. Lawyers have presented evidence that he was at work at the time of the murder and so could not have committed the offence. The evidence against him is based on the testimony of only one witness.

His daughter, Somaya Fadl, launched a heartbreaking video appeal #help_me_save_dad as part of efforts to pressure authorities to release her father, who she hasn’t seen for four years. Hundreds of people across the world have signed a petition to stop the executions, yet hundreds remain on death row.

Mawla’s wife told Al-Monitor that her husband had been targeted because of his “beard, religious appearance, advocacy activity and activity against the coup”. It’s not just Mawla who is being punished for opposing the regime – the majority of death penalties handed down in Egypt are politically motivated.

In a 2015 report Reprieve revealed that of the 588 people who had been sentenced to death since 2014 72 per cent of sentences were administered for attending pro-democracy protests.

Egyptian authorities have used a number of tactics to target those that oppose them including blocking websites that don’t toe the state line, placing crushing restrictions on human rights organisations and, when all else fails, casting them as terrorists.

Read: The end of one revolution and the start of another

Egypt’s highest criminal court has also sentenced six men to death for killing a policeman in the northern city of Mansoura in 2014 in what became known as the Mansoura Six case. The policeman was part of Hussein Qandil’s protection unit, one of the judges who presided over Mohammed Morsi’s trial.

Theirs is a familiar story – confessions were tortured out of them, they were denied access to lawyers, verdicts formed on the evidence of secret sources as well as there being major holes in the case as video evidence did not match up with witness statements.

Despite this, the Mansoura Six were convicted of premeditated murder, arms possession and forming a terrorist cell with the view to target security forces. Prior to the trial they were forcibly disappeared and then denied medical treatment once in detention. As of June their sentence cannot be appealed.

Read: ‘Deaths in Egyptian prisons have trebled in the last three years’

Along with Yasser Shukur and Yasser Al-Abasiri – who are awaiting execution for opposing the Egyptian state as part of the Rabaa Dispersal Case – that makes a total of 13 Egyptians currently on death row that could be executed at any time.

These death sentences “constitute arbitrary executions”, said a group of UN experts commenting on the Mansoura case, because the only thing that distinguishes capital punishment as permitted under international law is due process. Without doubt this does not exist in Egypt.

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