On Tuesday, a Cairo military appellate court accepted to review appeals submitted by two men to overturn death sentences issued against them in 2016, in the latest development of an ongoing case that has sparked controversy in Egypt and overseas. A hearing to review the appeals has been scheduled for December 4.
Students Ahmed Amin Ghazali and Abdel Basir Abdel Mawla are two of eight defendants in Case 174/2015 sentenced to death by a military court in May 2016.
The case became high-profile in Egypt after state television broadcast a number of the defendants confessing to having formed militant cells, with the stated aim of assassinating state officials and targeting state facilities, in June 2015.
However, rights groups have complained of procedural and rights violations committed throughout the case. According to reports by Amnesty International and No to Military Trials for Civilians, all of the detainees were subjected to forced disappearance and torture, and confessions were extracted under duress.
In a previous interview with Mada Masr, attorney Mohamed al-Baqer said the defendants’ confessions “were clearly extracted under torture.” The court, however, has repeatedly refused to grant the defendants the opportunity to retract their confessions and deny the charges leveled against them.
All defendants in this case, numbering 26 who received prison sentences in 2016 (with six defendants receiving sentences in absentia and two defendants out of a total of 28 acquitted), were convicted of belonging to an “advanced operations” cell, and faced allegations of having been trained to target police and military personnel. Charges against individuals, meanwhile, ranged from publicizing military secrets, being in possession of arms and assembling electronic circuits, to assisting in the making of explosive devices.
This is not the first time that Ghazali and Abdel Mawla have attempted to appeal the death sentences issued against them. In March 2018, their sentences were upheld by the military appellate court, which also accepted appeals against the four other death sentences issued and ordered retrials. At this time, the court also upheld the life sentences issued to six other defendants and 15-year-sentences against another six.
Although the case has garnered media attention, it has unfolded within a climate where death sentences are issued with regularity in Egypt. In late January 2018, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) reported that Egyptian criminal courts issued 260 death verdicts in 2017, 224 of which were against defendants in custody. Additionally, the Court of Cassation upheld 32 death sentences in the same year.
In December 2017 and January 2018 alone, the Egyptian authorities executed at least 24 people. All of those executed had been sentenced by military courts in cases of political violence, with the exception of four, who were sentenced in criminal cases.