In March 2015 masked men broke down the door of Khaled Saddouma’s house, entered his son’s bedroom where he was sleeping and dragged him out of the house without telling his family where they were taking him.
Authorities sent dozens of armed police officers, security forces and armed vehicles to carry out the arrest. “They stole our money and gold,” Khaled told MEMO. “And mobile phones and laptops. They even stole our kitchen knives.”
A day later Khaled sent a telegram to the Attorney General asking for news on his son’s whereabouts, but the family heard nothing for two and a half months. They now know that during this period of time Ahmed was blindfolded, beaten with metal bars and tortured with electric shocks.
Abuse within Egypt’s police stations and detention centres is rife. It’s also well documented. On Monday this week, 22-year-old Wael Mahmoud Ali Al-Sibai called his mother from Wadi Natroun prison to tell her he was dying from the torture being inflicted upon him. Two days later he was dead.
Like many others Ahmed wanted the pain to stop so eventually he made a false confession which led to a mass trial alongside 30 others. He was accused of terror offences and the attempted murder of a federal judge, despite the fact that the incident in question took place three weeks after he was arrested.
“Ahmed is definitely not a terrorist,” says Khaled. “Ahmed is a high school student.”
At just 17, Ahmed was a child in the eyes of both international and Egyptian law, yet this hasn’t stopped the Egyptian government sentencing him to death. Tomorrow Ahmed will face his ultimate hearing and if it’s approved President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has 14 days to pardon him, otherwise, he will be executed within two weeks.
The case has exposed, yet again, the extent to which the current administration in Egypt violates the rights of children and their far-reaching use of the death penalty, which is often administered following spurious accusations.
According to the London based human rights organisation Reprieve, 144 executions have taken place under the Sisi regime and preliminary death sentences issued to more than 2,400 people. Ten of these have been children.
In February nine young men convicted of the 2015 killing of the country’s top prosecutor Hisham Barakat were executed. Prior to their death several were forcibly disappeared and tortured to confess to the killing. There was no lawyer present when they were questioned.
In a separate trial the same month three other defendants were executed after being found guilty of killing former assistant director of security in Giza, Major General Nabil Farraj.
Ahmed’s ruling was overseen by Shaaban Al-Shami, one of the adjudicator’s dubbed the “judges of death” in reference to the number of Egyptians he has administered the death penalty to. In total Al-Shami, who is head of the Criminal Court of North Cairo, has issued 160 death sentences during his career, most notably to former President Mohammed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Mohammed Badie and the Islamic scholar Youssef Al-Qaradawi.
The Saddouma family are not politically active. Khaled describes their family life as “very ordinary – we go from home to the [private members] club and we don’t belong to any political or non-political group.”
Before he was incarcerated Ahmed Saddouma was a keen footballer, athlete and karate champion of the Giza governorate which is hardly surprising given that his mother was a former sportswoman and his father an international karate coach for the past 30 years. Under Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party, Khaled was responsible for organising the party’s sports camps and youth activities all over the country.
Ahmed is one of four sons, all who have followed in their parents footsteps by becoming athletes. However, the eldest, Abdulrahman, was sentenced in the same case as Ahmed and faces 15 years in prison.
For Khaled and the rest of the family, the shock has been huge: “We are suffering from a severe breakdown.”