In the Wednesday meeting, Mohamed Fayek, head of the NCHR, told the group that “the death penalty should not be used in political cases, and promised to study the Arab Sharkas case and consider how to proceed, since the execution of seven persons is, in any case, a serious matter”, the statement read.
The seven civilians were convicted by a military court on 21 October 2014 of killing a military officer and belonging to Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis militant group, and given the death penalty. After the military court rejected an appeal, the ruling was confirmed on 24 March 2015.
The case initially included nine defendants who were accused of planning and executing what is known in the media as the “Arab Sharkas” cell case.
Security forces had allegedly been carrying out operations against a “terrorist cell” in a village in the Qaliubiya governorate, north of Cairo on 19 March 2014. A gunfight allegedly took place and the Interior Ministry later reported six militants dead, and eight arrested. However, two defendants in the case had already been in prison and two others were arrested three days before the incident took place.
Sara Said, one of the defendants’ sister, previously told Daily News Egypt that her brother and the remaining defendants had been “kidnapped” or forcibly disappeared. Last May her family and “six or seven more families filed a report with the Prosecutor General after they had seen their children’s names in an Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis membership list that the Ministry of Interior had released”.
According to Amnesty International, enforced disappearances had increased as a method of arrest last year in Egypt. Likewise, military trials for civilians have been on the rise as hundreds of civilians have been standing trials in front of military courts.
According to the anti-death penalty group, “the trial lacked the minimum standards of a fair and just trial, to the extent that two of the convicted were in detention during the time of the crime of which they are charged”.
The anti-death penalty group had called on the NCHR to “urgently intervene” and “to bear the political and moral responsibility in preventing the death of possibly innocent citizens” earlier on 8 April.
Fayek told the group that he was concerned with lowering the amount of crimes, which are over 80, that are punishable by death. He added that “the death penalty should not be used in political cases”.
International human rights organisations, such as Human Rights Watch and Human Rights Monitor, as well as local rights organisations, condemned the military court death sentences. The family of one of the jailed civilians previously told Daily News Egypt that the charges and sentences were “ridiculous”.
A campaign, dubbed the “Execution of a Homeland” was also launched in March in which groups gathered petitions to be sent to the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations (UNHCR). The campaign stated that more than 500 people have been handed death sentences in unfair trails in Egypt.