Following a mass trial of 759 individuals, on 8 September 2018, the Cairo Criminal Court from a courthouse attached to the Tora prison complex, handed down 75 death penalties, 45 life sentences and terms of imprisonment ranging 5-15 years for the remaining. The cases against five people who died in prison were dismissed. BHRC joins the international community in condemning the entirety of this trial.
Chair of BHRC, Kirsty Brimelow QC, states: “A mass trial is a mockery of justice and its absurdity is grotesque in the outcome of the imposition of the death penalty in a grouping of cases. If Egypt is true to its ratification of international law, it should not allow this process and these sentences to remain. Further, there is an obligation upon the UK and other States to hold Egypt to account in the face of this gross violation of international law.”
The case relates to the Rabaa Massacre where over 800 people lost their lives during two sit-ins in August 2013, which turned violent as police attempted to disperse the demonstrators. Many regard this day as the starting point of the downward spiral of human rights in Egypt with security forces being connected to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. Not a single prosecution has been initiated against a member of the security forces. Instead Egyptian authorities have been holding a five year long mass purported trial of over 700 people, who attended the protests. These include journalists and photographers such as Mahmoud Abu Zeid (also known as Shawkan). All defendants were charged with participating in an unauthorised protest, in addition to other charges ranging from incitement to break the law, membership of an illegal group and murder.
Prosecutions conducted in a mass trial cannot result in proper due process and comply with international law standards and norms. In any event, as BHRC has noted in its trial observations of other proceedings, there are systemic issues within Egypt’s criminal justice system, meaning that the right to a fair trial is systematically being violated. Defendants do not have the ability to meet with their lawyers in private in order to prepare their defence. In court, they stand behind a reinforced soundproof glass meaning that they are not able to hear the proceedings nor communicate with their lawyer. Defendants are often held in pre-trial detention for years (in this case for 5 years), with their applications for conditional release being denied with no formal reasoning provided, in violation of their right to liberty. The poor conditions of detention are well documented and undoubtedly amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.
To compound these failings, individuals are now facing the most severe sentences of either life in prison or the death penalty. Whilst BHRC’s position is that the death penalty should be abolished in all circumstances, international human rights law also makes it clear that the imposition of the death penalty should be limited and only follow a trial with super due process. A mass trial and in the circumstances of how trials are being conducted in Egypt, is non-compliant with due process, let alone super due process.
BHRC welcomes news that renowned photojournalist Shawkan may be soon released, having already served the 5 years he was sentenced to for doing his job as a journalist.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
- For an interview with our spokesperson, please contact Amanda June Chadwick, Executive Officer, on firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)7854 19786
- The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) is the international human rights arm of the Bar of England and Wales, working to protect the rights of advocates, judges and human rights defenders around the world. The BHRC is concerned with defending the rule of law and internationally recognised legal standards relating to human rights and the right to a fair trial. It is independent of the Bar Council.