Egyptian Authorities Repeal Death Sentences for 2004 Taba Bombing Suspects - After Trials by Special Courts Found to Violate Basic Rights
Egypt Must Prevent Torture and Ensure Fair Trials Says Decision Endorsed by African Union
Egypt's interim government announced yesterday the repeal of the death sentences issued by the Supreme Emergency State Security Courts against three men for their alleged roles in the October 2004 bombings in the Sinai Peninsula tourist resorts of Taba and Nuweiba and the 2005 bombings at Sharm el Sheikh. This major development follows the recent adoption by the African Union of a far-reaching decision of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights which found Egypt in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights for the torture of the three men and their unfair trial in a special emergency court. The decision was handed down by the African Commission in a case brought by the Cairo-based organisation Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and INTERIGHTS, an international organisation engaged in the legal protection of human rights. Following a trial which fell far short of international fair trial standards, including Africa’s own fair trial and ‘Robben Island’ guidelines which deal with torture, the three men (Mohamed Gayez Sabbah, Ossama Mohamed Abdel-Ghani Al-Nakhlawi and Younis Mohamed Abu-Gareer) were sentenced to death for their alleged role in the attacks.
The three men were among the thousands who were rounded up by Egyptian authorities in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. They were held in incommunicado detention and subjected to torture including electric shocks, beatings and hanging by their hands and legs for days and weeks on end. During their months of torture and interrogation by intelligence services they were denied access to lawyers and to medical treatment. They were not brought before a court, nor did they have access to legal representation, until the day their criminal trial began. Following a sham trial by the Supreme State Security Emergency Court, they were convicted on the basis of confessions extracted under torture and sentenced to death with no right of appeal.
The Commission found multiple human rights violations, notably of torture, and violations of detention and fair trial rights. The Commission clarified that these rights include the right to access a lawyer and medical care shortly after detention, trial before an independent judiciary, and preclude the use of evidence obtained through torture in any judicial proceedings The Commission concluded that implementing the death sentences handed down by the State Security Court would be a violation of the right to life given the irregularities that characterised its proceedings.
The Commission called for Egypt not to execute the applicants but to immediately release them and provide compensation; to reform the State Security Courts so that they become independent and capable of providing a fair trial; to ensure access by detainees to lawyers, doctors and courts; and to bring their emergency laws into line with international standards. The Commission had already requested that Egypt not execute the men before it had the opportunity to consider the case fully.
The Commission emphasised that the state security courts, which remain operational in Egypt, are not independent and cannot provide fair trials. It found that the Supreme State Security Emergency Court’s competence and procedures “fall far short” of international fair trial obligations, adding that: “the degree of control which the President of the Republic exercises over the composition, conduct and outcome of proceedings before the State Security Court is antithetical to the notion of an independent and impartial judicial process.” This adds to the growing body of decisions from the Commission that condemn such special tribunals.
The decision also sets down important benchmarks for African states concerning their obligations to prevent torture. These include the requirement of providing early and regular access to lawyers and doctors for all persons in detention. It also makes clear that “evidence and confessions obtained through torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment cannot be used in judicial proceedings”. The principles in this case are applicable to many countries across the region where there is insufficient oversight of police and security services in their detention of suspects, and where confessions continue to be used in criminal trials absent suitable safeguards.
Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said: “The decision to repeal the death sentences is a welcome and significant development, but the Egyptian government must now take further measures to prevent the recurrence of these abuses, including by immediately lifting the State of Emergency, abolishing Emergency Courts and ending the endemic practice of incommunicado detention. We urge the Egyptian authorities to ensure that the retrial of the defendants is conducted before an ordinary civilian court that upholds the international and regional standards of independence and fair trial.”
Helen Duffy, Senior Counsel at INTERIGHTS, said: “This is a landmark decision by the African Commission. It clarifies safeguards that African states must put in place to meet their obligations to prevent torture and ill-treatment during detention. It also makes clear that 'state security courts' have no role in an Egypt based on respect for democracy and human rights. Whether Egypt implements the decision in full will be a measure of its commitment to move from authoritarian rule to the rule of law.”
Spokespeople are available for interview:
1. Hossam Bahgat, Director, EIPR on +(202) 2794-3606, firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Helen Duffy, Senior Counsel, INTERIGHTS on +31 62 42 83 283, email@example.com
3. Sarah Harrington, Communications, INTERIGHTS on 0044 20 7843 0472, firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors:
1. EIPR (www.eipr.org) is an independent Egyptian human rights organisation that was established in 2002 to promote and defend the personal rights and freedoms of individuals.
2. INTERIGHTS (www.interights.org) is an international NGO which works to ensure that human rights standards are protected and promoted effectively in domestic courts and before regional and international bodies.
3. Ratified by 53 countries including Egypt, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is a charter intended to promote and protect human rights and freedoms in Africa.
4. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is a quasi-judicial body which promotes and protects human rights in Africa including through being the body which oversees and interprets the African Charter.