FIDH expresses its utmost concern after an Egyptian court sentenced to death 529 defendants, concluding a procedure that has flagrantly violated the most fundamental guarantees of a fair trial.
"Sentencing hundreds of defendants(to death) in a single trial is unprecedented. The Egyptian judiciary woefully distinguishes itself in completely disregarding fair trial guarantees while there is an urgent need to establish the rule of law” said Karim Lahidji, President of FIDH.
On 24 March, the Criminal Court of Minya (South Egypt) sentenced to death 529 defendants (387 in absentia). Convictions ranged from charges of murdering a police officer, storming and burning the Matay police station in Minya, attempting to kill two polices officers, to stealing weapons and releasing inmates, in the aftermath of the dispersal of the Raba’a and Nahda sit-ins in August 2013. 16 others defendants were finally acquitted.
The court in Minya, issued its ruling after only two sessions in which the defendants’ lawyers complained that they had no chance to present their case. According to a defense lawyer, the trial was characterized by the violation of the rights of the defense and the right to a fair trial. On 22 March the lawyers requested the removal of the judge, but the request was not referred for examination. During the second hearing on 24 March, the judge refused to let the lawyers into the courtroom and the detained defendants did not attend the hearing either. After only 45 minutes, the judge pronounced the death sentences.
FIDH endorses the position of its member and partner organizations in Egypt, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which considered these sentences as “ a dangerous, unprecedented shift in the Egyptian judiciary’s treatment of such cases and represents a grave violation of both the right to a fair trial and the right to life.”. The organizations are also “especially concerned by this expansive use of the death penalty in light of the increasingly repressive measures taken against political dissidents of various affiliations”.
Another trial of 700 defendants is planned to take place on 25 March 25 in application of the same proceedings on “terrorism” cases. After 30 June 2013, “terrorism circuits” have been assigned to try all crimes of terrorism in order to speed the proceedings in such cases.
While the authorities have claimed that these circuits were created only for crimes of terrorism, they have also been used to prosecute ordinary crimes, and to restrict freedom of expression and political opposition. On 23 March 2014, the Cairo Criminal Court (terrorism circuit) heard the case of Alaa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Abdel Rahman and other activists charged with organizing and participating in a protest held against military trials for civillians on 26 November 2013.
FIDH reiterates its firm opposition to the death penalty for all crimes and in all circumstances, as it considers it an inhumane treatment. FIDH calls on the Egyptian authorities to abolish the death penalty for all crimes, impose an immediate moratorium on death sentence and execution, and to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.