United Nations (UN) human rights experts condemned Monday the recent confirmation of 183 death sentences related to August violence in Minya, calling the sentences “a staggering violation of international human rights”.
The group of experts also urged the Egyptian government to offer a retrial to the condemned defendants.
“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.
Judge Said Youssef, who gave preliminary death sentences 683 alleged members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement, affirmed during a recent court session that 183 of the 683 should be given the death penalty. According to the UN, this “constitutes the largest mass death sentence to be confirmed in Egypt in recent history”.
“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,” the experts said.
The statement notes: “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”. It urged authorities to put a moratorium on death sentences.
The experts are all part of the UN Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Among the experts were the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the Special Rapporteur on promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.
The Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council is only one of the many international organisations to condemn the recent Minya death sentences.
“In recent months, Egyptian courts appear to have handed out death sentences at the drop of a hat, including in two mass trials based on flimsy evidence and deeply flawed proceedings,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International (AI).
Human Rights Watch (HRW) acknowledged the case was “in clear violation of Egyptian and international law”. It cited Article 96 of the recently-ratified Constitution which states that all those accused of a crime are “presumed innocent until proven guilty in a fair legal trial in which the right to defend oneself is guaranteed.”
The HRW report went on to point out: “The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international body that interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a state party, has said that ‘in cases of trials leading to the imposition of the death penalty, scrupulous respect of the guarantees of fair trial is particularly important’”.