Egypt: Verdicts expected for 739 defendants in grotesque mass death penalty trial

  • 739 defendants face death penalty, including photojournalist popularly known as ‘Shawkan’
  • Grossly unfair trial marred by torture of defendants

The mass trial of 739 people, many facing the death penalty on charges related to participation in the al-Rabaa sit-in on 14 August 2013, is a grotesque parody of justice, Amnesty International said ahead of the verdicts expected to be handed down by a Cairo Criminal Court today.

Among the defendants is journalist and prisoner of conscience Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as “Shawkan”, detained while working as a photojournalist documenting the protest. Amnesty International is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

“The idea that more than 700 people could all stand trial together in one day, all facing the death penalty in what is clearly a grossly unfair trial that violates Egypt’s own constitution beggar’s belief.”

Najia Bounaim, Director of CampaignS in North Africa at Amnesty International.

“The idea that more than 700 people could all stand trial together in one day, all facing the death penalty in what is clearly a grossly unfair trial that violates Egypt’s own constitution beggar’s belief,” said Najia Bounaim, Director of Campaigns in North Africa at Amnesty International.

“This can only be described as a parody of justice; it casts a dark shadow over the integrity of Egypt’s entire system of justice, and makes a mockery of due process.”

“This can only be described as a parody of justice; it casts a dark shadow over the integrity of Egypt’s entire system of justice, and makes a mockery of due process.”

Among the 739 defendants are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, now a banned group in Egypt, facing charges of participating in unauthorised protests and other charges  ranging from murder, to “incitement to break the law”, “membership of an illegal group”, “illegal gathering” and involvement in violence.

During the trial sessions, prosecutors failed to submit evidence establishing the individual responsibility of each of the 739 defendants, nor did the court insist on the need to establish such responsibility, rendering this a grossly unfair trial. Amnesty International is calling on the Egyptian authorities to release and drop the charges against all those arrested for protesting peacefully; defendants suspected of committing violent crimes must be tried in a fair trial without the possibility of the death penalty or released.

30-year-old photojournalist Shawkan has been charged with 24 offences, including murder, “illegal gathering” and other violence related charges.

Shawkan was working as a photojournalist covering the demonstration, when he was arrested. The prosecution has not presented any evidence that he was guilty of murder or any other violence. Under international human rights law, Egypt has an obligation to uphold the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, a right also guaranteed in Egypt’s constitution, and the charge of “illegal gathering should not be a criminal offence.

Shawkan has been in pre-trial detention since the dispersal of the al-Rabaa sit-in on 14 August 2013. His prolonged pretrial detention is in violation of Egypt’s own laws, which establish a maximum two-year limit on pre-trial detention.

“Shawkan has now been detained without a court verdict for almost four years, twice the legal limit under Egyptian law. This is clearly punitive and aimed at silencing others who might take part in any form of journalism or activism that threatens the Egyptian authorities,” said Najia Bounaim.

On 14 August 2013, Egyptian security forces violently dispersed sit-ins at the Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares in Cairo, leaving at least 900 people dead and thousands more injured. No member of the Egyptian security forces has been held to account for what is widely referred to as the al-Rabaa Massacre.  

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