GENEVA – A group of UN human rights experts, including Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai, expressed outrage after a Criminal Court in Minya, Egypt, confirmed death sentences against 183 people, in what constitutes the largest mass death sentence to be confirmed in Egypt in recent history. The experts urged the Government to quash the sentences and offer new and fair trials to all defendants.
On 21 June 2014, the Court upheld 183 of the 683 provisional death sentences imposed on 28 April 2014 in connection with events in Minya last August. The provisional sentences were pronounced following trials laden with procedural flaw. There was a lack of precision in the charges, limited access to lawyers, trials in absentia, and mass sentencing. The charges ranged from threatening public order and setting fire to a police station to murder. The 183 defendants, including Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed al-Badie, are all supporters of former elected President Mohamed Morsi.
“The imposition of mass death sentences following blatantly unfair trials and for crimes that may not be punishable by death constitutes a staggering violation of international human rights law,” the experts said.
The statement by the United Nations independent experts comes after a joint statement on 15 May 2014 urging the Government to quash the 683 deaths sentences, and a joint statement on 31 March 2014 after an earlier round of mass death sentences were imposed upon 529 individuals in trials marred by procedural irregularities.
“We are shocked by the repeated and deliberate use of mass death sentences” stressed the experts, noting that the credibility and integrity of the Egyptian justice system has become deeply compromised. “We are deeply concerned that the courts have become instrumental in the arbitrary and politically motivated prosecutions by the State, which may also be discriminatory against people on the basis of religion or belief”.
According to available information, since January this year the Egyptian courts have recommended the death penalty for 1,247 individuals and upheld such sentences against 247 individuals, all of whom were Morsi supporters.
The experts expressed alarm at the use of the death penalty to clamp down on political dissent and recalled that “death penalty is an extreme form of punishment and, if used at all, should only be imposed for the most severe crimes and following trials that scrupulously respect the guarantees of due process and fair trial as stipulated in international human rights law”.
Concern was also expressed at the recent resumption of executions in the country. Since 16 June six men and a woman convicted of murder and forced robbery were hanged, in the first recorded executions in Egypt since 2011. The UN experts urged the Government of Egypt urgently to impose a moratorium on all death sentences.
The UN experts are also alarmed by the latest conviction of three Al-Jazeera journalists to 7 and 10 years of prison, in what appears to be a continued crackdown on the media.
The UN experts reiterated their call to the Egyptian authorities to reform the legal system and bring it into compliance with international standards. “Respect for justice and the rule of law is an international obligation and an essential component of any strategy for institutional consolidation and lasting reconciliation,” they noted.
The experts: Mr. Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Mr. Juan Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Mr. Mads Andenas, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mr. Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Pablo de Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and Mr. Ben Emmerson, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.