A military court sentenced eight civilians to death by hanging in a Sunday verdict.
The condemned prisoners were convicted of belonging to an “advanced operations” cell, allegedly trained to target police and military personnel.
The court also sentenced 12 other defendants to life imprisonment (25 years in Egypt) and six others to 15 years, while two were acquitted. Six of the defendants were tried in absentia, including two of those sentenced to death. The others were arrested between May 28 and June 15, 2015.
Among those sentenced to life in prison are Sohaib Saad and Omar Mohamed Ali, who were disappeared, along with former-detainee Esraa al-Taweel.
On February 7, the court recommended eight of the defendants be sentenced to death, and their files were forwarded to the mufti, who issues non-binding opinions on whether defendants should be executed. The sentencing hearing was repeatedly delayed, most recently on April 24, when authorities failed to transfer the detained defendants to the courthouse.
The sentences can still be appealed in front of the Supreme Military Court of Appeals, the defendants’ lawyer Mohamed al-Baker told Mada Masr.
Rights groups have complained of procedural and rights violations throughout the case. According to reports by Amnesty International and No to Military Trials, all of the detainees were subjected to disappearance and torture, and were forced to make false confessions.
Several of the detainees appeared in a video released July 10, 2015 by the Ministry of Defense, confessing to their alleged roles in the cell.
In a previous interview with Mada Masr, Baker said the defendants’ confessions were “clearly under torture,” but the court refused to regard the defendants’ attempts to retract their confessions and deny the charges against them.
Sunday’s verdict comes a little more than a year after the May 2015 hanging of six civilians sentenced in an October 2014 military trial. The trial, known as the “Arab Sharkas case,” was denounced as flawed by human rights groups, and the executions were carried out while lawyers were still in the process of challenging the verdict and demanding a retrial.
According to an April report from Human Rights Watch, Egypt has tried at least 7,420 civilians in military courts since the adoption of a October 2014 law that greatly expanded the reach of the military justice system by placing all public property under its jurisdiction. The list of those swept up by the law includes at least 86 children, as well as activists, students and professors.
Most were sentenced in mass trials of up to 327 defendants, and relatives say many detainees were tortured into confessions, the rights group notes.
“While affirming the danger of capital punishment in general, and especially in such clouded times when justice remains doubted, there is even more danger in having death sentences issued by military courts, adding to the core civilian rights violations incessant in military trials through deprivation of a fair and just trial,” No to Military Trials said in an April statement.