UN urges Egypt to overturn mass death sentences
The United Nations’ human rights chief has urged Egypt’s appeals court to overturn mass death sentences handed down by a lower court to dozens of people for their participation in the 2013 Cairo sit-in protests.
Michelle Bachelet, who took office as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights last week, said in a statement on Sunday that if carried out, the sentences “would represent a gross and irreversible miscarriage of justice.”
Defendants were denied the right to individual lawyers and to present evidence, while “the prosecution did not provide sufficient evidence to prove individual guilt,” Bachelet added.
“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 said.
An Egyptian court on Saturday gave death sentences to 75 people. Among those sentenced to death by hanging at the Cairo Criminal Court were prominent Muslim Brotherhood members Essam al-Erian and Mohamed Beltagi and prominent Islamic preacher Safwat Higazi.
Another 56 defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment, including Mohamed Badie, the spiritual leader of the Brotherhood.
The decision can be appealed within 60 days.
Rights groups have criticized the mass trial of more than 700 people in what has become known as the Rabaa case.
On August 14, 2013, police dispersed a mass sit-in protest in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. The security forces killed over 800 people in a matter of hours, in what Human Rights Watch concluded “likely amounted to crimes against humanity.”
According to Human Rights Watch, nearly 85,000 protesters joined the sit-in, which extended for over 45 days and grew larger and more organized with time.
Elsewhere in her statement, Bachelet criticized a law giving immunity from future prosecution to senior military officers.
International rights groups have censured Egyptian authorities for failing to prosecute those members of the security forces who were involved in the August 2013 massacre.
The protest was staged by supporters of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president and Brotherhood leader, who was overthrown by the military in July 2013.
Thousands were arrested on the day of the massacre and in the months following.
Since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power in 2014, authorities have justified a crackdown on dissent and freedoms as being directed at saboteurs trying to undermine the state. Death sentences have been handed down to hundreds of his political opponents on charges such as belonging to an illegal organization or planning to carry out an attack.