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The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed deep shock over the execution of 20 people in Egypt within one week, amid concerns that due process and fair trial guarantees did not appear to have been followed.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday, January 2, five men who had been sentenced to death by an Egyptian military court were hanged in Alexandria, four of whom had been convicted for an explosion near a stadium in Kafr al-Sheikh on 15 April 2015 that killed three military recruits and injured two others.

On December 26, 15 men convicted on terrorism charges were reportedly executed, found guilty by a military court of killing soldiers in Sinai in 2013.

“We understand the defendants were tried by military judges on the basis of legislation that refers cases of destruction of public property to military courts and in view of the victims being from the Egyptian Military Academy,” HCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell told reporters on Friday at the regular news briefing in Geneva.

“Civilians should only be tried in military or special courts in exceptional cases,” she continued.

Ms. Throssell also said it is important that all necessary measures are taken to ensure that such trials take place under conditions which genuinely afford the full guarantees stipulated in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a State party.

Despite security challenges facing Egypt, particularly in Sinai, Ms. Throssell maintained, “executions should not be used as a means to combat terrorism.”

Military courts typically deny defendants the rights afforded by civilian courts, Throssell said, citing reports “that the prisoners who were executed may have been subjected to initial enforced disappearance and torture before being tried”.

According to figures from Cornell University’s Death Penalty Worldwide, there has been a sharp increase in executions in the years since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power.

From 2011, the year that former President Hosni Mubarak was deposed, to 2013, Egypt executed one person.

In 2014, Egypt executed 14 people. The following year, 22 more people were executed, and at least 44 people were executed in 2016.

Egypt extends state of emergency

Execution spree came as US-client President Abdul Fatah El-Sisi extended the state of emergencyon Tuesday.

Egyptian authorities first imposed a nationwide state of emergency in April 2017, after two church bombings killed at least 45 people. Similar extensions were announced in July and October last year.

The measure grants the president, and those acting on his behalf, the power to refer civilians to State Security Emergency Courts for the duration of the three-month period.

There is no appeal process for State Security Emergency Court verdicts.

It also allows the president to intercept and monitor all forms of communications, imposing censorship prior to publication and confiscating extant publications, impose a curfew for or order the closure of commercial establishments, sequestration of private properties, as well as designating areas for evacuation.

The emergency measures allow security forces to detain people for any period of time, for virtually any reason. They also grant broad powers to restrict public gatherings and media freedom.

Lifting the state of emergency, initially imposed following late President Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981 and lasted for three decades under his successor Hosni Mubarak, has been one of the key demands of the January 2011 popular uprising.

In June 2012, Egypt’s state of emergency finally came to an end.

However, in January 2013, emergency law was reintroduced by elected President Mohamed Morsi for 30 days, to curb renewed unrest.

In August of the same year, and following a military coup led by then defense minister Sisi against Morsi, Egypt’s military-backed government then declared a one-month state of emergency following the violent dispersal of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in what came to be known as Rabaa al-Adawiya massacre in which hundreds of civilians were killed at hands of police and security forces.

60,000 imprisoned

Since Sisi took power in 2013, human rights conditions in the country continued to deteriorate.

Human rights organizations found that around 60,000 were imprisoned between 2013 and 2017.To accommodate them, the Egyptian authorities decided to build 10 additional prisons. The facilities that already house these prisoners are extremely overcrowded, according to Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights.

In August 2016, the Egyptian Coordination of Rights and Freedoms released a report on prison conditions in Egypt under Sisi, documenting 1,344 incidents of torture – including direct torture and intentional medical neglect – in detention facilities and prisons between 2015 and 2016.

There are also reports of forced disappearances. Amnesty International recorded three to four disappearances a day between 2015 and 2016. Amnesty states that the number could be much higher since a lot of families fear the repercussions from reporting a disappearance case.

Furthermore, Sisi issued a decree in 2014 that allowed the military wider jurisdiction, where civilians were prosecuted by the military courts. These trials contained almost no evidence and were based on investigations led by National Security officers. Human Rights Watch said that this “formed the basis of 7,400 or more military trials of civilians” since Sisi issued the decree.

Tellingly, El-Sisi, who in 2013 overthrew of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, is expected to run for another term. The date for this election will be announced soon.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net). He is the author of several books including Islam & Muslims in the 21st Century published in 2017.

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