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HRW calls on Egypt's Sisi to commute death sentences

Protest against Sisi on 3 June 2015 near the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin. [ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images]
Protest against Sisi on 3 June 2015 near the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin. [ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to immediately commute the death sentences for 12 protestors, including prominent Muslim Brotherhood leaders "who had been convicted in a grossly unfair mass trial for participation in the 2013 Rab'a sit-in that ended with security forces killing at least 817 protestors."

On June 14, 2021, the Court of Cassation, Egypt's highest appellate court, upheld the death sentences for the 12 as well as long prison sentences for hundreds of other Rab'a case defendants. Egypt's Criminal Procedure Code gives the president 14 days following the court ruling to pardon the defendants or commute the death sentences.

"The Rab'a trial was a mockery of justice, so it is outrageous that the highest court has upheld these 12 death sentences," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "President Sisi should seize this moment to void their execution and put an end to Egypt's profligate use of the death penalty."

Those whose death sentences the Cassation Court upheld include senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders Mohamed al-Beltagy, 58, Osama Yassine, 56, Ahmed Arif, 40, Abdelrahman al-Barr, 58, and a prominent Brotherhood supporter and Islamic preacher, Safwat Hegazi, 56. Al-Beltagy was a member of the 2012 parliament, and Yassine was a minister in the government of former President Mohamed Morsy, a senior Brotherhood leader who died in detention in 2019. The 12 men whose death sentences were confirmed could face execution imminently if President al-Sisi does not act.

According to Amnesty International, the Egyptian authorities have executed at least 51 men and women in the first half of 2021. In October 2020, Human Rights Watch documented the execution of 49 men and women by Egyptian authorities in just 10 days.

"Egypt should immediately halt any further executions, particularly of those convicted in grossly unfair trials," Stork said. "To move forward, Egypt needs to address the crimes committed by security forces, including Rab'a and the mass killings of protestors."

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