The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said today that she is extremely concerned that an Egyptian court’s confirmation of 75 death sentences on Saturday did not result from a fair trial, and the sentences, if carried out, would therefore amount to “a gross and irreversible miscarriage of justice”.
Geneve, Sept 09, 2018.- She also pointed to the stark contrast between Egypt’s mass trials and a recent law that effectively grants members of the security forces complete immunity for crimes they may have committed.
The death sentences were originally imposed during a mass trial in July in which a total of 739 people were convicted on charges that stemmed from a Muslim Brotherhood-led protest, in August 2013, which was met with a lethal military crackdown.
“The conduct of the trial in the Cairo Criminal Court has been widely criticised,” Bachelet said. “And rightly so. The 739 people were tried en masse, and were not permitted individual legal representation before the court. In addition, the accused were not given the right to present evidence in their defence, and the Prosecution did not provide sufficient evidence to prove individual guilt. The evident disregard of basic rights of the accused places the guilt of all those convicted in serious doubt. In particular, the 75 death sentences affirmed yesterday, if implemented, would represent a gross and irreversible miscarriage of justice.
“I hope that the Egyptian Court of Appeal will review this verdict and ensure that international standards of justice are respected by setting it aside,” she added.
The charges included murder and incitement to violence, membership of an illegal group, participation in an illegal gathering, and other crimes. In addition to the death sentences, 47 people were sentenced to life imprisonment, while the remainder were handed jail terms of varying length.
A series of mass trials in Egypt have involved hundreds of cases being heard at the same time, and have raised many of the same issues about due process and fair trial standards.
The military crackdown on Muslim-Brotherhood led protests in the Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares in Cairo on 14 August 2013, is alleged to have led to the killing of up to 900 mostly unarmed protesters by members of the Egyptian security forces. The Government later claimed that many protesters had been armed, and that a number of police were killed.
Despite the huge death toll, no State security personnel have ever been charged in relation to the so-called ‘Rabaa massacre’.
In July this year, the Egyptian Parliament approved a law* that will effectively bestow immunity from prosecution on security force personnel for any offences committed in the course of duty between 3 July 2013 – the date the military overthrew the Government of President Morsi – and 10 January 2016. The law permits the President to designate a number of officers as lifelong reserves, and grants them the immunities and privileges of a sitting Government minister, including diplomatic immunity when travelling abroad.
“Justice must apply to all – no one should be immune,” the High Commissioner said. “Attempts to bestow immunity from prosecution for crimes allegedly committed by members of the security forces merely promotes impunity, and undermines the faith of the Egyptian people in the Government’s capacity to deliver justice for all. I urge the Government of Egypt to ensure that justice will be done, according to law, in relation to any individuals – including members of the State security forces – who are suspected of committing a crime.”