International rights watchdog Human Rights Watch urged Egypt to halt the execution of six men sentenced to death by a military court in the case known as the Arab Sharkas Cell, calling for their referral to a civilian court in a statement issued Saturday.
Last October, a military court sentenced seven people to death for leading and being part of a cell affiliated with militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdes (now Province of Sinai). One of the defendants was sentenced to death in absentia. The court also sentenced two more defendants to life in prison in the same case.
The military prosecution accused the defendants of planning and executing an armed attack on a bus transporting soldiers in Cairo’s Amiriya district on March 13, 2014, which resulted in the death of a sergeant in the Armed Forces.
Two days later, another attack killed six soldiers at a military police checkpoint in the Musturud area of southern Cairo. On March 19, a brigadier and a colonel in the Armed Forces were killed when the Armed Forces raided an abandoned warehouse in Ezbet Arab Sharkas in Qalyubia, which gave the group the name “Arab Sharkas cell.”
HRW cites the defendants’ families and lawyer Ahmed Helmy, who say that three of the men were arrested months before the attacks and remained in detention and so could not have participated in any of them.
The rights group says Mohamed Bakry, Hani Amer, and Mohamed Afifi were arrested in late 2013, citing Helmy who was allegedly hired by their families in January 2014. HRW also obtained copies of telegrams that Amer and Bakry’s families sent to prosecutors in December 2013 requesting information about the two men, the statement said.
“Egypt’s courts have routinely abandoned due process, but if these executions go ahead it will represent an egregious new low,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director, said. “Civilians should never face trial before military courts or face execution as a result.”
Defense Minister Sedky Sobhy upheld all seven death sentences last month, turning down an appeal.
“It is outrageous that these six men face execution in Egypt after such a flawed judicial process,” Whitson said.
The Interior Ministry announced the execution of Mahmoud Hassan Ramadan, convicted of throwing a teenager to his death off a rooftop in Alexandria’s Sidi Gaber neighborhood in July 2013.
Ramadan was executed after he was found guilty of throwing teenagers off a rooftop during protests by the Muslim Brotherhood, the ministry said. This was the first death sentence to be carried out in violence that occurred in the aftermath of Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in July 2013.