Egypt: Ruling in Rabaa Dispersal Case underscores need for immediate end to mass death sentences
The undersigned organizations unequivocally condemn the mass death sentence issued in Case no. 34150/2015, commonly known as the Rabaa Dispersal Case. The undersigned reject the trial proceedings, which exemplify the degraded standards of fairness, impartiality and independence that define Egypt’s dysfunctional judiciary. We demand an immediate end to mass death sentences and a moratorium on all sentences previously issued, pending a reassessment.
Amid an unprecedented increase in mass death sentences, the Cairo Criminal Court of the Terrorism Circuit, presided over by Judge Hassan Farid, sentenced 75 defendants to death and 47 to life in prison after finding all 739 defendants guilty (300 imprisoned, 439 in absentia) among them political opponents, journalists, and Muslim Brotherhood leaders. 347 defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison, 215 defendants to 5 years in prison, and 22 child defendants were given 10 years in prison, with all sentenced to five years police probation after the completion of their sentence. The assets of all defendants except the minors were confiscated, and all were barred from the civil service.
Concerns about the trial proceedings were previously raised by rights organizations, which rejected the 75 indiscriminate death sentences due to the vague charges upon which they were based, and mass sentencing’s incompatibility with the principle of individual criminal responsibility. Furthermore, the ruling disregarded the likelihood of arbitrary and politically-motivated arrests. All defendants were convicted without exception, among them photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as Shawkan, a recipient of UNESCO’s Press Freedom Prize this year. Shawkan was arrested in the vicinity of Rabaa al-Adawiya Square while on the job, according to official court testimony by his employer at the time.
Other defendants had even more tenuous connections to the dispersal at Rabaa. Osama Mohammed Morsi, the son of Sisi’s disposed predecessor, was arrested three years after the massacre, and another defendant—Essam Sultan, the chair of the Wasat Party—was in police custody at the time of the dispersal. Nevertheless, both men were convicted on charges related to the events of the dispersal.
623 people were killed at Rabaa al-Adawiya, including eight policemen, according to the fact-finding report of the National Council on Human Rights; some rights reports put the number of protester casualties at over 1,000. Five years later, the Rabaa Dispersal Case is being used to punish survivors of the massacre with death sentences and imprisonment, instead of holding those responsible for the bloodshed to account. The conviction of all defendants in this case is clearly intended to absolve the military and police establishment of the atrocities committed during the dispersal, while reassuring the public of the soundness of the investigations and proceedings.
The trial was marred by utter failure to observe the minimum guarantees of a fair trial. Lawyers revealed that not all defendants had legal representation during most trial sessions. Defendants were denied their fundamental rights, including the right to mount a legal defense, make statements, examine witnesses, and take sufficient time to deliver oral arguments. For example, the defense called 240 witnesses during the witness testimony, yet the court approved the examination of only 50 to 60 of them, while not giving defense lawyers adequate time to question them. This unjust mockery of the judicial process was further marred by the confinement of all defendants in a soundproof glass cage, preventing them from communicating with witnesses or lawyers. Given the large number of defendants, at times many of them were unable to see what was happening in the courtroom.
Given the Egyptian judiciary’s mockery of the fundamental precepts of due process, accompanied by its intentional failure to punish the true perpetrators of the Rabaa massacre; we, the undersigned human rights organizations reiterate our condemnation of the ruling on September 8th and call for an immediate cessation of the death penalty in Egypt. We further denounce the recent response of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the statement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the need to overturn the mass death sentences, which if implemented would represent a “gross and irreversible miscarriage of justice.”
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
- Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms (ACRF)
- Nadeem Center
- Freedom Initiative
- Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
- Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
- Democratic Transition and Human Rights Support Center (DAAM)
- Egyptian Front for Human Rights
- Belady Center for Rights and Freedoms
- Committee for Justice
- Andalus Center for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies (AITAS)