Lives are always at stake when the death penalty is involved. But when the new el-Sisi government is preparing to execute 683 Egyptians, something even more is at stake: the future of the Egyptian judiciary.
On Saturday, an Egyptian court will formally rule on the initial 683 death sentences handed out in April in a case involving the death of a police officer in the August 2013 protests that followed the removal of President Muhamad Morsi. The sentence followed only by a matter of days a second, similar case in which 528 Egyptians were given the death penalty.
[pullquote text=”The 683 Egyptians whose lives are at stake, many of whom are in hiding, deserve better than the kangaroo court they faced this past April. But so do all Egyptians.”]Since the pronouncements, Egypt has elected a new president, former military leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has promised to bring stability to a country still struggling with the aftermath of the January 2011 uprisings.
To date, the post-Morsi government’s record of “bringing stability” is a poor one in terms of human rights, one built upon relentless attacks on civilians by military and security courts, a crackdown on political opponents, unfair trials, accusations of torture and expanded legal powers for mass surveillance and censorship of the media and political speech.
In short, el-Sisi appears to be repeating the old abuses of the Mubarak era. But even Mubarak had to deal with an Egyptian judiciary that, at times, showed brave and remarkable independence, requiring the government to create an entire scheme of military courts to bypass civilian judges on key political trials.
Saturday’s death penalty ruling will be the first of many tests under el-Sisi whether that past record of independence can continue in his government.
An Amnesty International observer called the two mass trials “a mockery of justice.” There was little effort to collect evidence tying the defendants to the attack on the police officer. Most of the defendants weren’t even in attendance and were tried in absentia. The few defense attorneys on hand were not allowed to cross-examine witnesses.
For the second trial, the procedures were even worse. No defense attorneys were in court during the session and the judge made no effort to review evidence.
Amnesty International is calling on Egyptian officials to:
- Overturn the death sentences.
- Order retrials that rigorously adhere to international standards of fair trial for all the individuals.
- Commute all death sentences and establish a moratorium on executions.
The 683 Egyptians whose lives are at stake, many of whom are in hiding, deserve better than the kangaroo court they faced this past April. But so do all Egyptians.
Please take action and urge Egyptian Authorities to overturn the mass sentence and order fair retrials.