The Egyptian government has upheld a death sentence against Sheikh Abdel Halim Gabreel, an 80-year-old Quran tutor, with Amnesty International campaigning for him to receive a presidential pardon.
On 24 September, Egypt’s Court of Cassation upheld the death sentences of 20 Egyptians, including Gabreel, who had been convicted of killing 13 policemen during a 2013 attack on a police station in the Giza suburb of Kerdasa in 2013.
Gabreel was arrested while he was in the mosque and was put on trial after six months of investigations, all whilst he was denied a lawyer. Despite not having any political affiliation and stating that he was not involved in the Kerdasa attack, with two witnesses for the prosecution affirming his story, he was sentenced to death.
Some 156 defendants were also either sentenced to death or to lengthy imprisonment in the first trial, for their alleged involvement in the “Kerdasa Massacre” in which 13 police officers were killed.
The 80-year-old grandfather’s health has deteriorated in prison since his detention; he has received inadequate treatment for his psoriasis and cannot walk long distances. Wadi Al-Natrun prison authorities have also prevented his family from bringing him medication.
The latest ruling by the Court of Cassation cannot be appealed. Amnesty has consequently called on the international community to write letters to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and the country’s public prosecutor, urging for Gabreel to be granted a presidential pardon and that he is given regular and adequate access to qualified medical professionals.
They also urge Egyptian authorities “to halt any planned executions, to commute all existing death sentences and immediately establish an official moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty”.
According to Amnesty, since the ousting of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, Egyptian civil and military courts issued more than 1,400 death sentences, mostly related to incidents of political violence, following grossly unfair trials, with testimonies often obtained through torture.
The global human rights watchdog has described the situation in Egypt as the worst human rights crisis in the country in decades, with the state systematically using arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances to silence any criticism of the government. Hundreds of journalists and human rights activists have also been arrested and held without trial.
Egypt has justified its crackdown on opponents as necessary to protect national security. Last year, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi told US officials in New York that human rights should not be judged from a Western perspective, arguing that Egypt had taken numerous measures to ensure the economic and social wellbeing of its citizens.