Amnesty International has condemned a sharp rise in the use of the death penalty in Egypt, accusing authorities of a “horrifying execution spree”.
The London-based human rights group said Egypt executed at least 57 people in October and November alone, nearly double the number recorded in the whole of 2019.
At least 15 of those executed had been sentenced to death in cases related to political violence following what Amnesty International called unfair trials marred by forced “confessions”.
This shocking death toll is likely to be an underestimate, as Egyptian authorities do not publish statistics on executions or the number of prisoners on death row.
“The Egyptian authorities have embarked on a horrifying execution spree in recent months, putting scores of people to death, in some cases following grossly unfair mass trials,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director.
“These executions are particularly appalling given the well documented and systematic breaches of fair trial rights in Egypt, with courts often relying on torture-tainted confessions,” Luther said.
“Not only are the Egyptian authorities trampling on the right to life in shocking disregard for their obligations under international law, but they are also punishing the brave human rights defenders documenting and speaking out these violations,” Luther continued.
Egyptian authorities have also clamped down on human rights organizations working on the death penalty. Authorities arrested staff members of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) in November and interrogated them about the organization’s criminal justice work, including its November publication on the alarming rise in executions.
Amnesty said the spike in executions followed a botched breakout attempt in September at Cairo’s notorious Tora Maximum Security Prison One known as al-Aqrab (Scorpion) on Sept. 23, when four prisoners on death row and four members of security forces were killed.
Official sources blamed the violence on an alleged escape attempt by prisoners. However, there has not been an independent and transparent investigation into the incident.
In apparent retaliation for the security incident at al-Aqrab Prison, authorities reduced the amount of food given to prisoners, including on death row and cut off the electricity supply to their cells
Amnesty International has previously documented concerns over the breaches of fair trial standards in such mass trials especially and the failure to demonstrate individual criminal responsibility.
Torture is rampant in Egypt, and frequently used to extract “confessions”, while courts regularly fail to order investigations into allegations of torture and admit torture-tainted “confessions” as evidence.
Given the Egyptian authorities lack of transparency, the number of prisoners currently at risk of execution is unknown.
Among those on death row after having exhausted all possibilities of appeal is Wael Tawadros, known as Father Isaiah, a monk who was convicted of killing Bishop Anba Epiphanius in April 2019.
Wael Tawadros was sentenced to death following a grossly unfair trial, where the court relied on his torture-tainted ‘confessions’ to secure a conviction. He was also denied the right to an adequate defence.
“We call on the Egyptian authorities to commute all death sentences, and to quash convictions and order fair retrials without recourse to the death penalty for Wael Tawadros and anyone else convicted after unfair trials,” said Luther.
“We also urge the international community, including UN human rights bodies, to publicly call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately halt executions, and for members of the UN Human Rights Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Egypt,” Luther ended. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)