9 executed over 2015 assassination of prosecutor general

Nine defendants convicted of involvement in the assassination of Prosecutor General Hesham Barakat in 2015 were executed on Wednesday, according to lawyer Faisal al-Sayed.

The men executed are Ahmed Wahdan, Abul Qassem Youssef, Ahmed Gamal Hegazy, Mahmoud al-Ahmady, Abu Bakr Abdel Megid, Abdel Rahman Soliman Kahwash, Ahmed al-Degwy, Ahmed Mahrous and Islam Mekkawy.

The nine executions in a single day mark a significant escalation in Egypt’s use of the death penalty this year, with a total of 15 people put to death in the last three weeks alone. Over the first two weeks of February, six people were executed in two separate cases that rights organizations say were rife with due process violations, including the use of torture to extract confessions.

Sayed told Mada Masr that he had submitted a request to the Public Prosecution to review the nine death sentences – the last legal recourse available – but that it had never been examined.

Families of the men received calls on Tuesday afternoon informing them that their relatives had been transferred to another prison in Cairo in preparation for the executions, which were to take place at dawn, Sayed said.

Article 70 of the law regulating the Prisons Authority stipulates that families of those sentenced to death are entitled to visit their relatives the day before the date set for execution, which they should be notified of by the prison administration. However, families of the nine men executed on Wednesday were not able to visit them, the lawyer said, adding that they will be allowed to receive the bodies from Zeinhom Morgue on Wednesday.

During the trial, which Amnesty International described as “grossly unfair,” a number of defendants alleged that they were forcibly disappeared and tortured into confessing to the crime.

“Those responsible for the attack that killed Egypt’s former public prosecutor deserve to be punished but executing men who were convicted in trials marred by torture allegations is not justice but a testament to the magnitude of injustice in the country,” Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s North Africa Campaigns Director, was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the rights watchdog on Tuesday.

The execution of the nine men comes just two days after a suicide bombing in Cairo’s Gamaleya district left three police officers dead, and several days after militants attacked an Armed Forces checkpoint in North Sinai, killing 15 military personnel, the highest military death toll in over a year.

Human rights groups have previously pointed to a number of examples that suggest executions carried out in Egypt are “politicized and retaliatory.” A statement released last year by 12 local rights organizations expressed concern that the execution of four men in January 2018 came “as a political response, following very recent armed attacks on civilians and military personnel on December 28 and 29, 2017.”

Other organizations have pointed to similar concerns. A 2017 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace states that “one glaring example is the execution of six young defendants in the Arab Sharkas case on May 17, 2015, the day after an attack on judges in Arish in the northern Sinai.” It also notes that the execution of Adel Habara on December 15, 2016, took place four days after a suicide bomber killed 29 at the St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Cairo.

The nine executed Wednesday were convicted of assassinating Egypt’s former prosecutor general, who was killed on the morning of June 29, 2015, in a car bombing that targeted his convoy as it left his residence in Heliopolis. Barakat and a number of others, including passersby, were killed in the assassination.

In July 2017, the Cairo Criminal Court issued death sentences for 28 out of the 67 defendants initially charged with involvement in the assassination, with 38 other defendants receiving prison sentences that ranged from 10 to 25 years in prison. Defendant Mohamed Kamal was excluded from the case because he had died in a shootout with police as they attempted to detain him in 2016.

Sixteen of the defendants in the case were sentenced in absentia, with thirteen of the original 28 death sentences handed down to these defendants, who were not present at trial.

In September 2017, lawyers of 53 defendants submitted appeals against the sentences issued against them, 26 of which were accepted, with 25 rejected and two declared void by the court on the grounds that they were submitted by defendants who had been sentenced in absentia.

Of the 26 appeals accepted, the Court of Cassation upheld in November 2018 nine death sentences, while reducing the death sentences against six defendants to life imprisonment, reducing prison sentences for another six defendants to shorter terms, and acquitting five defendants.

According to a monthly survey conducted by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, 56 defendants were handed death sentences in January of this year, in addition to 48 others who received preliminary death sentences — which are sent to the Grand Mufti for his non-binding opinion — during the same month.

Between January and November 2018, at least 32 defendants were executed in eight civilian cases and 11 military cases in Egypt, according to a report issued by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. The reported also stated that at least 581 defendants were issued death sentences in 174 civilian cases and nine military cases over the same period.

AD