Four Egyptian men who were facing the death penalty over alleged crimes committed as children have had their charges dropped yesterday as a mass trial of 304 people at the north Cairo military court.
Three of the men Ammar El-Sudany, Belal Hasnein and Abdullah Moniem were to be released immediately, according to human rights organisation Reprieve. A fourth man, Mohamed Badr, also escaped capital punishment and was handed a three-year prison sentence. In a statement, Reprieve said it will be campaigning for his immediate release too as he has already served longer than his arrest.
Sherif Azer, who leads Reprieve's Middle East and North Africa team, told MEMO: "This is a big win, secured by a real team effort – by working with politicians who called for their release; by working with journalists who highlighted their plight and shone a spotlight on Egypt and this injustice."
However, in welcoming the news, he stressed that "we can't stop here, nor can we call it justice. These young men were arbitrarily detained as children by Egyptian security services, tortured, and spent three years in adult prisons with a death sentence hanging over them. Those wounds may never heal," adding that there are many other young men facing similar risks.
The accused were all arrested as teenagers for protesting against the Egyptian government in 2016 and were tried in a case that lasted almost two years having been charged with being members of the outlawed Hasm Movement. Egypt accused the group, which has claimed responsibility of several terrorist attacks mainly against security forces, of being an armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, although both the Brotherhood and Hasm deny this.
Sudany, one of the young men, was 17 years old when security forces raided his home and arrested him. His family said his father had been detained a day earlier for supporting former President Mohamed Morsi.
It is claimed that the four men were forced to make confessions under torture. Sudany was reportedly hung by his arms for three days and subjected to electric shock torture, even on his genitals, with some of the beatings allegedly taking place in front of his father.
On Sunday it was reported that the British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was urged by MPs to intervene in the case. Caroline Lucas, who led the cross-party group of MPs and members of the House of Lords, said it was "chilling" that the young men were facing death having being arrested as children without warrants and subject to torture.
"If the UK's commitment to human rights is to mean anything, the government must not remain silent in a case such as this. The foreign secretary should condemn this litany of abuses and call on President Sisi to ensure these men are not sentenced to death," she added.