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Egypt continues execution spree, with impunity

An Egyptian student holds the Rabaa sign during a protest against the military rule on 18 February 2015 [Amr Sayed/Apaimgaes]
An Egyptian student holds the Rabaa sign during a protest against the military rule on 18 February 2015 [Amr Sayed/Apaimgaes]

On 15 July 2013 four men left the Rabaa sit-in, got into a car and drove away from the protests. On their way out of the square they saw another man who had been wounded and they picked him up, planning to take him to the nearest hospital.

As they tried to leave the area, they were stopped at a police checkpoint and interrogated by soldiers about where they had been that day. One of the officers searched their phones and saw that two of the men, brothers, were related to an Al-Azhar University professor, who they recognised as a senior Muslim Brotherhood member.

Muhammad and Mustafa Al-Farmawi, Ahmed Mohamed and Haitham Mahmoud, young men in their twenties and thirties, were arrested on the spot and later sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly using violence against police and civilians.

One month after their arrest, emboldened by the impunity with which they had used violence against and incarcerated the protesters, the Egyptian army orchestrated the most brutal massacre in Egypt's modern history. Tanks surrounded Rabaa Square, where anti-coup demonstrators had gathered. Soldiers shot at the demonstrators, ran over them with their tanks and set fire to tents.

Thousands were arrested on the day of the massacre, tortured and sentenced in mass trials. Close to 1,000 died. Many were executed, yet neither the victims nor their families have ever achieved justice for that day as senior army officials have evaded punishment. Instead, it is the people who went out onto the streets to raise their voices against tyranny and oppression, and their families, who languish in prison.

Not long after the Rabaa massacre the current regime outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, the culmination of its relentless crackdown on its members. Since then, political opponents in their thousands have been charged with belonging to the group and supporting or financing a terror group even if they were open critics of the organisation or members of a different religion.

One of the most brutal ways this oppression has manifested itself is a striking increase in the number of executions and death sentences which are handed out. In April, Amnesty announced that there had been a 300 per cent rise in executions in Egypt and that Cairo had become the third most frequent executioner worldwide.

As if totally blind to the swathe of reports putting Egypt's death penalty crisis at the centre of an urgent appeal to the international community, on Monday it hit the headlines that Cairo's highest appeals court had upheld the death sentence against 12 Brotherhood members who were being charged for what has become known as "the Rabaa sit-in dispersal."

READ: 18 days

Among these men were senior leaders, but also the four men who were arrested at the police checkpoint eight years ago. The two brothers and their friends should have been released in 2016, but in 2015 – when they had served two years of their sentence – new charges were filed against them.

The Egyptian Network for Human Rights (ENHR) is highlighting the cases of these four men in particular, calling it a "state crime" on the grounds that it is not legally permissible to punish an accused person twice for the same crime under Egyptian law.

ENHR has pointed out that the second charges brought against the men are the same – allegedly using violence against police and civilians – but that the case is named "dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in" which actually took place whilst they had been in custody for one month.

Amnesty says that the initial trial in 2018 was flawed, with 739 defendants crammed into the same court hearing at the same time. What Reprieve has called Egypt's "mass trial complex" is going full steam ahead – over 2,000 people have been sentenced to death on the back of these mass trials since 2011.

In October and November last year Egypt executed at least 57 people, likely to be an underestimation since solid statistics are hard to come by due to lack of transparency. Since 2011 at least 17 children have received the death sentence, which is against Egyptian child law.

In May, Father Isaiah was hanged after being convicted of killing a bishop following a confession for which he was tortured, a common and alarming phenomenon.

There is an element of cruelty to these executions, beyond the actual hanging itself. Father Isaiah's brother had driven to see him in prison on the Saturday. As he drove away, Samuel did not know it would be the last time he saw him alive – he found out on Sunday, when he received a phone call from prison authorities asking him to collect the body. After he did the family were prevented from giving Father Isaiah a proper burial.

According to ENHR, there are currently 68 people in Egypt at risk of imminent execution, including the four young men stopped at the police checkpoint back in July 2013. Everyone has the right to a fair trial and certainly nobody should lose their life for a confession made to make the torture stop.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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