'Horrifying' rise in state executions in Egypt kills at least 57, Amnesty says

Campbell MacDiarmid
The spree of executions followed a prison break attempt from Cairo's Tora prison in September, Amnesty said - Hassan Ammar /AP
The spree of executions followed a prison break attempt from Cairo's Tora prison in September, Amnesty said - Hassan Ammar /AP

Egypt has embarked on a “horrifying execution spree”, carrying out at least 57 death sentences in the past two months, Amnesty International said on Wednesday. 

The estimate is nearly double the number of prisoners executed in all of 2019, though the actual number of executions is likely even higher, the UK-based rights group said.

“The Egyptian authorities have embarked on a horrifying execution spree in recent months, putting scores of people to death, in some cases following grossly unfair mass trials,” said Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa director Philip Luther. 

“These executions are particularly appalling given the well-documented and systematic breaches of fair trial rights in Egypt, with courts often relying on torture-tainted confessions."

Local advocacy group the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights criticised the increased use of capital punishment in November, shortly before three of its staff were detained and interrogated about their work. 

“Handing down and implementing wholesale death sentences, at this progressive pace, does not achieve justice and is not a deterrent to crime,” EIPR said.

“On more than one occasion, the Egyptian Initiative called on the Egyptian government to retreat from this excessive use of capital punishment."

The arrest of the EIPR staff could be linked to the organisation’s opposition to capital punishment, Amnesty believes. 

“Not only are the Egyptian authorities trampling on the right to life in shocking disregard for their obligations under international law, but they are also punishing the brave human rights defenders at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights documenting and speaking out about these violations,” Mr Luther said.

The executed prisoners were found guilty of various offences including murder, rape and participation in political violence, Amnesty said. 

The organisation collected its figures through interviews with lawyers and relatives of prisoners, and reviewing media reports, legal documents and NGO publications.

The actual number of executions was likely even higher, “as Egyptian authorities do not publish statistics on executions or the number of prisoners on death row; nor do they inform families or lawyers in advance of executions,” Amnesty said.

It has been unable to verify a further 31 executions that were reported by pro-government Egyptian media in October and November. 

The increase in capital punishment followed an alleged prison break attempt at Cairo's  Tora prison in Cairo on September 23 in which four prisoners on death row and four members of security forces were killed, Amnesty said.

Egyptian authorities have maintained a sustained crackdown on dissent since the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in a popularly backed military coup in 2013. 

Since 2014, when former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power, courts have condemned over 3,000 people to death, according to the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, though most sentences are reduced on appeal. Fewer than 800 death sentences were issued in the six years prior, according to Amnesty.