Final verdicts in the case of the assassination of the public prosecutor: Cassation Court upholds death sentences for the fourteenth time in one year, in cases marred by procedural irregularities and violations of defendants’ rights
For the fourteenth time in the space of a year, the Court of Cassation has upheld death sentences handed down by lower courts, making them final and enforceable. On Sunday, November 25, 2018, the court issued its judgment on case no. 81/2016/High State Security felonies, known in the media as the case of the assassination of the public prosecutor. The court upheld the death sentence for nine defendants and reduced the sentence of six defendants from death to life imprisonment.
Four defendants had their sentence reduced from life imprisonment to 15 years in prison, and one defendant, Ibrahim Abd al-Moneim Ali Ahmed, received a reduced sentence of three years in prison instead of life; the court acquitted five defendants. Previously, on July 22, 2017, The Cairo Felony Court had sentenced 28 defendants to death in this case, in connection with the assassination of Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat.
The defendants sentenced to death are: Ahmed Mohammed Taha Wahdan, Abu al-Qassem Ahmed Ali Youssef, Ahmed Gamal Ahmed Mahmoud Hegazi, al-Ahmadi Abd al-Rahman Ali Wahdan, Abu Bakr al-Sayyed Abd al-Megid Ali, Abd al-Rahman Suleiman Kahoush, Ahmed Mohammed al-Dagwi, Ahmed Mahrous Sayyed Abd al-Rahman, and Islam Mohammed Ahmed Mekkawi.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights is gravely concerned by the Court of Cassation’s growing tendency to uphold death sentences issued by felony courts. As a final recourse, the Cassation court had a reputation for cautiousness and restraint when it comes to death sentences, particularly in cases marred by procedural irregularities and violations of defendants’ rights that undermine their right to a fair trial and due process. The EIPR had called for a diligent investigation into allegations made by some defendants in this case and their families that they were disappeared and tortured. Their testimonies can be heard in part in a video clip from August 16, 2016, made at one of the trial sessions.
Violations cast doubt on the integrity of the investigations
According to Mahmoud al-Ahmadi, one of the defendants sentenced to death, the videotapes of the confessions—which were circulated widely as incriminating evidence even before the court heard the case—were filmed in late February 2016 in the National Security headquarters in Lazoghli over 12 days of extreme torture and duress. Mohammed said his brother, Mohammed al-Ahmadi, and other defendants were also tortured at the Lazoghli facility. Defendant Abu al-Qassem Ahmed stated that he was arrested on February 19, 2016, but was only brought before the prosecution on March 5, 2016. In other words, he was disappeared for 15 days, a practice that has become commonplace in investigations into terrorism-related crimes. During this period, when he had no legal representation and had not even faced the prosecution, Abu al-Qassem says he was given electroshocks, hung on a door for hours at a time, and had his hands bound even during sleep.
The video also shows defendant Abu Bakr Sayyed, who testified that he was disappeared for a full week, a period he spent at the National Security headquarters in Zaqaziq.
He related the details of the torture he endured and says that he asked the judge to view the obvious signs of torture on his body, but the judge refused. When another defendant related the psychological distress and anxiety he suffered as a result of torture, the judge responded disparagingly, “Maybe you’re just possessed.”
The judge then cut him off before he could finish detailing the torture he experienced, torture that he claims came in response to his request to have an attorney present during questioning and to see the forensic pathologist. Abu Bakr also noted that he showed the signs of electroshocks on his leg to the judge, but the judge ignored it and made no comment.
These and other documented violations cast doubt on the integrity of the investigations on which the charges were based. These issues should have been of procedural concern to the Court of Cassation, especially since it was deciding on an irrevocable sentence of death.
The case dates back to the assassination of Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat on June 29, 2015, when a car bomb went off in the Nozha neighborhood while Barakat’s car was passing. Barakat was killed in the blast and members of his guard detail and several citizens were injured. Several cars and nearby buildings were also damaged.
In an earlier statement following the judgment of the first-instance court, the EIPR described the death sentences issued in this case as a subversion of fair trial standards. In a statement on June 30, 2015, the EIPR and other organizations called for a serious, transparent, independent investigation into the crime.
The EIPR reiterates that the death penalty does not guarantee that justice is done. This is especially true given the terrifying pace at which such sentences have been issued since the beginning of 2018, in both cases of a political nature as well as “ordinary” criminal cases. Over the last year, 55 final death sentences have been handed down in 16 cases, including two cases in which four civilians were sentenced to death by the High Military Appeals Court.
We again state that the unprecedented increase in death sentences in recent years has not stemmed rising security threats. On the contrary, these sentences have frustrated the chance for a transparent, serious societal dialogue on the magnitude of these treats and the best means to confront them.