Al-Minya Mass Death Penalty: Wasted Justice and Mockery of Defendants Rights --- Joint Press Statement

Press Release

30 April 2014

The undersigned civil society organizations are deeply concerned about the retrial of 37 men sentenced to death and 492 to life imprisonment by Al-Minya Criminal Court, on 28 April for their alleged involvement in Matay's police station violence events and the referral of 683 defendants to the Grand Mufti for his advisory opinion on the imposition of the death penalty in relation to Adwa's police station violence events. The undersigned organizations express their outrage with the involvement and usage of the judiciary as a tool to suppress the political opposition. The organizations also ask the Minister of Justice to refer the cases to the Supreme Judicial Council, to investigate the disrespect of the minimum standards of the fair trials.

The Minya Criminal Court has issued a decision on the 24th of March to refer the papers of the 529 defendants to the Grand Mufti to explore his legal opinion for the sentencing to death and the case was postponed to the 28th of April, a verdict has been issued for the death sentence of 37 and life imprisonment for 492. Despite the local and international outcry about the referral of the defendants to the Grand Mufti, that was described by eight independent experts at the United Nations as “mockery of Justice”, the court applied the same procedure in another case to refer 683 defendants to the grand Mufti to explore his legal opinion about the applying the death sentences. The organizations are concerned by the deeply flawed nature of these mass trials, which represent a serious miscarriage of justice. Monday's verdict and decision do very little to restore faith in the rule of law and the impartiality of the judiciary, and emphasize the need for the state to take urgent actions to reform the justice system in Egypt.

The 528 defendants in the Matay case ( Case number 8473/2003 Minya felonies) were charged with murdering Mostafa Raguab, Deputy Head of the Matay Police Station, attempted murder of two other officers, arson, weapon seizure, destruction of property and other criminal acts in relation to violence that engulfed al-Minya Governorate in the immediate aftermath of forcible dispersals of pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo, in Rabaa and Al Nahda, on 14 August 2013. The defendants also faced charges of belonging to a banned group and participating in an illegal gathering. No effort was made by the judicial authorities to establish individual criminal responsibility in a case where 545 people were collectively accused of killing a single police officer. In addition, it is impossible to determine the criminal individual responsibility in a trial that lasted for three sessions; two out of these were used to announce the decisions of the court. The judge failed to clarify on what basis he singled out 37 people for capital punishment and the others to life imprisonment. Although the 28 April conviction in the Matay case involved 528 defendants, only 69 people were detained when the case was referred to court by the public prosecution. Others were arrested subsequently, and 147 are currently in custody according to lawyers. It is unclear whether the 37 sentenced to death are among those detained.

The undersigned organizations are deeply concerned that the right to adequate defense was not upheld in either case. Despite the serious nature of the Matay case, the judge referred the defendants' documents to the Grand Mufti on 24 March for his advisory opinion in relation to the application of capital punishment after a single hearing on 22 March, which lasted some 30 minutes according to lawyers. During that hearing, the defense's request to hear witnesses in future sessions was dismissed. The defense lawyers were also not allowed to cross examine prosecution witnesses; study all the relevant documents in the case file; question any evidence presented by the prosecution including video recordings; and present additional evidence to challenge the prosecution's narrative and evidence. Further, the judge only provided the defense with 24 hours to submit their written legal motions, before making the decision to refer the defendants to the Grand Mufti. It is worth mentioning that at this session, the judge ordered the guards to secure the trial through locking the lawyers and the defendants, after an altercation that took place between them.

The undersigned organizations are also concerned by the failure of the judicial authorities to respect due process in a separate case heard by the same presiding judge, in relation to violence in 'Adwa, another province of al-Minya. In this case involving 683 defendants including the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Badii, about 70 are currently in custody according to lawyers. In protest of the legal shortcomings in the Matay case, defense lawyers boycotted the first and only hearing in the Adwa case on 25 March before Monday's court decision to refer all the accused to the Grand Mufti in gross disregard to the right to adequate defense. The defendants face charges of killing police officer Mamdouh Mohamed Qutub in 'Adwa Police Station and a relative of another police officer, attempted murder, illegal gathering, and destruction of property, attacking officials on duty and other violent acts.

The judge Said Youssef has a record of imposing harsh sentences against those accused of violent acts against security forces. In addition to Monday's two decisions, on 27 April 2014, he sentenced about a dozen people to prison terms up 88 years. On the other hand, in January 2013, he had acquitted all members of the security forces charged with killing protesters in the Bani Suef Governorate during the 25 January Revolution.

The undersigned organizations are further concerned by allegations made by defendants' relatives and their lawyers that a number of those arrested in connection to the Matay case were beaten or otherwise ill-treated upon arrest, in their pretrial, and after transfer to Wadi al-Gidid Prison. Those arrested shortly after the violence on 14 August were initially held incommunicado, with their relatives and lawyers unable to locate their whereabouts. A number were interrogated by public prosecutors inside detention facilities without the presence of lawyers of their choice.

According to the testimony of the relatives of the defendants, a mother whose three sons - brothers Mohamed, Mahmoud and Hussein Eid Abdelsalm - her children were not politically active and that no evidence was presented to prove their involvement in the violence. While two of them have been released on bail, the family could not afford to pay the requested 5,000 pounds given the family's modest financial means. The three were convicted on Monday, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

With some 16,000 people arrested in connection to political violence following 30 June 2013, according to government's estimate, the undersigned organizations are deeply concerned by the failure of the Egyptian authorities to uphold basic fair trial guarantees, particularly for those accused of crimes punishable by the death penalty in Egyptian legislation.

The Egyptian Constitution upholds the right to a fair trial including the right to adequate defense ( Article 96 and 98) and recognizes that ratified treaties have the force of national legislation ( Article 93). As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Egypt has the obligation to ensure defendants' basic guarantees of fair trial including having adequate time and facilities for the preparation of defense and to examine, or have examined, the witnesses against them and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on their behalf.

Al-Minya cases further highlight the importance of implementing the longstanding recommendations – in which the undersigned organizations have submitted before- to guarantee the right of appeal in felony cases on substantive grounds, and not merely on matters of the law in front of the Court of Cassation.

The Signatories

1. Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development (ACT)

2. Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)

3. Arab Penal Reform Organization

4. Association for Freedom of Expression and of Thought

5. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies

6. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

7. Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance

8. Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE)

9. Egyptian Center For Economic and Social Rights

10. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)

11. El Nadeem Centre for psychological rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture

12. Misryon Against Religious Discrimination

13. National group for human rights and law

14. Nazra for Feminist Studies

15. The Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions

16. The Hisham Mubarak Law Center

17. The Human Right Association for the Assistance of the Prisoners

18. The New Woman Foundation