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Massive increase in death sentences in Sisi’s Egypt

An execution is about to take place using the method of hanging [Patrick Feller/Flickr]
An execution is about to take place using the method of hanging [Patrick Feller/Flickr]

Almost 2,500 people, including women and children, have been sentenced to death in Egypt since the 2013 coup in which the democratically-elected government of Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. At least 144 death sentences have been carried out by Sisi’s government, which started a crackdown on opposition groups when he came to power six years ago, according to new figures published by the UK-based rights group Reprieve.

Egyptian courts have issued death sentences for 75 or more defendants in one sitting in at least five separate trials during this period. These mass trials and death sentences are said to “depend on a chain of human rights abuses that extends from the time of detention through sentencing.”

Citing the UN, the Reprieve report said that the arbitrary arrest and mass sentencing that followed Sisi’s crackdown has become a “chronic problem”. The use of torture has become “common practice” and its prevalence has been described as a “torture assembly line”. Hundreds of people have been subjected to enforced disappearance, many of whom are later sentenced in mass trials.

READ: 52 Egyptians executed on political charges, 50 more await death

Children are also subjected to the same ordeal. Thousands of minors have been arrested unlawfully since July 2013. They are often tried in mass proceedings alongside adult defendants.

Reprieve said that it compiled the report using publicly available information from lawyers and organisations in Egypt as well as other government and non-government agencies. Data published by the group shows a stark contrast in the number of death sentences carried out in the pre-Sisi era — one — compared with the time since the Sisi-led coup, which stands at 144 and counting. When it comes to mass trials leading to death sentences, the rise in the Sisi period to 33 from only two in the pre-Sisi era represents a massive 1,550 per cent increase.

A similar trend can be seen in the number of death sentences handed to individuals who were under 18 at the time of their alleged offence, which the report notes is “a serious violation of both Egyptian and international law.” Ten juveniles have been handed death sentences under Sisi while prior to him seizing power only one minor faced the death penalty.

The execution rate for women during the Sisi period is also much higher than the rate for men. Thirty-two women have had their death sentences confirmed under Sisi; 11 of them have been executed.

READ: Egyptians in America call for end of death sentences and to prevent amendment to Constitution

Reprieve concludes that despite a number of member states raising the issue at the UN, the “international response has been inadequate given the scope of the problem.” It found that even as Sisi has been executing Egyptians at an unprecedented rate, cooperation between European states, the EU, the US and Egypt’s criminal justice and defence sectors has continued largely unabated. The European Commission is even said to have provided over $10 million worth of assistance to Egypt’s judiciary in the past four years as part of a programme called, ironically, “Support for the Modernisation of the Administration of Justice” (SMAJ).

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