Six defendants from the “Arab Sharkas Cell” case are to face execution on “terrorism” charges in an “unfair” trial, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Saturday.
The prominent international NGO said that although there is little evidence to prove that some of the defendants were detained at the time of the crimes, they were still charged and convicted.
In October 2014, the Supreme Military Court sentenced seven defendants to death, and another two to life in prison. The sessions were held in the military area in the Hikestep military camp on the Ismailia-Cairo road. The defendants’ lawyers and families presented an appeal to Defence Minister Sedki Sobhi, which was refused on 24 March.
“Egypt’s courts have routinely abandoned due process, but if these executions go ahead it will represent an egregious new low,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director. “Civilians should never face trial before military courts or face execution as a result.”
The name “Arab Sharkas” goes back to where security forces carried out a raid in March 2014 against an alleged “terrorist cell” in a village in the governorate of Qaliubiya, north of Cairo. The raid on the village left, as reported by the interior ministry, six alleged militants dead, and eight arrested.
The arrested members of the cell were accused of belonging to the Sinai-based militant group, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, now known as ‘State of Sinai’. The watchdog claims that the three of the defendants were arrested prior to the attacks.
One of the defendants is a high school student named Abdel Rahman Al-Sayed, who was arrested in March 2014.
The defendants’ lawyer told HRW that they initially confessed to membership of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, but later renounced their confessions, claiming that the confessions were produced under torture.
A number of local and international human rights groups have previously speculated that the executions might take place within days, and organised a petition “to revoke the sentences”.
Egypt’s military courts take place in military areas, which are restricted to civilians, and are usually led by high-ranking military officers.
There has been an increase in the number of civilians being tried in front of military courts.
This was enhanced by both the presence of the a military appeals court which specialises in all lawsuits concerning the armed forces, and an October 2014 presidential decree by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. The decree stipulates the referral of any person who attempts to vandalise certain types of public property to a military court.
HRW added that “all eight men are currently held in the Scorpion section of Tora Prison, the highest security facility in Egypt”.
In addition to being tried in front of a military tribunal, the eight defendants are part of the mass trial of over 200 alleged members of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, who are facing more than 50 charges ranging from murder, to assassination attempts, to bombing, as well as targeting police and army personnel.
On Saturday, the Cairo Criminal Court postponed the trial of the alleged members to 18 April, after the court said that some defendants were not assigned defence lawyers.