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Pressure builds on Egypt to halt execution of 12 men on death row

On July 17th and 18th, 2021, a truck ad drove through Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia displaying the faces of 12 political prisoners in Egypt that are facing the death penalty [The Freedom Initiative/Flickr]
On July 17th and 18th, 2021, a truck ad drove through Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia displaying the faces of 12 political prisoners in Egypt that are facing the death penalty [The Freedom Initiative/Flickr]

Pressure is building on Egypt from human rights organisations to halt the execution of 12 men on death row who could be hung at any time.

Over the weekend the US-based human rights organisation Freedom Initiative drove a truck through Washington DC and Northern Virginia with pictures of the faces of the 12 political prisoners on the side, who have become known as the Rabaa 12.

"Help us save them," read the caption at the top, which twelve headshots surrounded by two nooses. "Save their lives."

Among the men are a dentist, a lawyer, a physician, a surgeon, a minister and many brothers, fathers, husbands, and sons.

On 14 June this year Egypt's court of appeal upheld the death penalty for 12 members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were charged under the Rabaa sit-in case.

Of the defendants, several were senior figures, including the former minister of youth and sports, however, four were young men who were stopped on their way out of the Rabaa sit-in at a police checkpoint and arrested on the spot.

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The men were sentenced in a mass trial, which has been widely slated by rights advocates. They were in court alongside 739 defendants in which the defence were not given the opportunity to defend their clients individually.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi had 14 days from the ruling to issue a presidential pardon, their only chance to be saved as they exhausted all their appeals, however, he did not do so which means they could be hung at any time.

On 15 July the verdict was signed, which means, according to the Freedom Initiative, "that all that stands between the men and execution is a sign from Sisi, and we fear this could be carried out at any time."

There was concern that they may have been executed during the recent Eid holiday, despite it being illegal in Egypt, after earlier this year 17 men were executed during the holy month of Ramadan.

The ruling sparked worldwide condemnation, however, just two weeks later Egypt executed 16 people in one week in the northern city of Alexandria and at the Cairo Appeals Prison.

Rights advocates have warned for months of Egypt's escalating death penalty crisis, described by Amnesty International as a "horrifying execution spree" with hangings up by 300 per cent.

Egypt is the third most frequent executioner worldwide, second only to China and Iran. Hundreds of final sentences have been issued to political prisoners who have not been given a fair trial.

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"Pursuing these executions indicates the Egyptian government's efforts to, quite literally, exterminate its political adversaries," according to the Freedom Initiative.

Reprieve are also calling on people to join a campaign calling the Egyptian government out and demanding that it stops all executions including of these 12 men.

Reprieve describes what's happening in Egypt as a human rights crisis. Last year at least 152 people were killed including Father Isaiah, who was executed without notice in May following a confession for which he was tortured.

Biden has come under fire recently for promising to amend the US' failure to stand up to its key ally Egypt over human rights issues, but in reality keeping their relationship close to the status quo.

Earlier this year the US government drew huge criticism after approving the sale of $197 million worth of missiles to Egypt despite the government's severe human rights abuses.

America has pressed ahead with giving the North African country its annual $1.3 billion of military aid even though it is now one of the most repressive in the world.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post yesterday, Human Rights Watch's advocacy officer Elisa Epstein said "the US government cannot claim to promote human rights while selling advanced weapons to rights-abusing governments."

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