After nearly seven years of trials, the Cairo Terror Court decided on Saturday to refer the papers of 10 defendants in the case known in the media as the “Helwan Brigades case” to the Grand Mufti for his opinion on their execution. This case is a comprehensive model for all human rights violations and fair trial guarantees, as it is a mass trial involving 215 people, and many of the defendants were subjected to torture, enforced disappearance and poor conditions of detention.
In August 2014, a video was published online showing 17 masked people carrying firearms. One of them explained that this group called the Helwan Brigades is tired of the peaceful Muslim Brotherhood, as he put it, and that the purpose of bearing arms is to respond to police and army violations against opponents in Egyptian prisons. It will also retaliate against the police and army’s use of violence against demonstrators during the dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in and Al-Nahda Square, and the Republican Guard incident, he said.
Two weeks after the video was published, the Ministry of Interior announced that it had identified the people in it and had arrested eight of them. Dozens of arrests followed in connection with this case, No. 451 of 2014, until the number of defendants reached 215, including 145 detainees.
In February 2015, the former Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat referred all the defendants to a summary trial, on charges of establishing a group contrary to the law, the purpose of which is to call for the suspension of the provisions of the constitution and laws and to prevent state institutions and public authorities from carrying out their work, joining and leading that group. The prosecution also accused some of them of killing a police officer and attempting to kill others.
There have been many violations since the beginning as 46 of the defendants arrested said that they were subjected to enforced disappearance for periods ranging between two and 56 days, while the Public Prosecution deliberately failed to investigate these allegations. Thirty of the defendants in the case confirmed that they were tortured after their arrest to make them confess to the charges against them. The methods of torture included insults, severe beatings, electric shocks in sensitive places, hanging by the hands, and threats to harm families.
The case papers show that there are 38 imprisoned defendants who have been deprived of their right to legal representation before the prosecution, and investigations began with them in the absence of any lawyer, whether private or delegated by the Bar, which violates the constitutional text of Article 54. The justifications for the prosecution to start the investigation session without the presence of a lawyer varied between cases of necessity, fear that they would have to be released, inability of the lawyer to attend, and fear of losing evidence. These reasons cannot, in any way, amount to a justification for violating a constitutional text and violating the defendants’ right to a defence.
Twenty-four defendants complained about the poor conditions of places of detention, and the complaints varied between the threatening health situation and being subjected to ill-treatment, and more than one defendant complained of being denied their right to visit and exercise, overcrowding and poor ventilation inside the cells.
Executions on the rise
Referring their papers to the Mufti paves the way for a death sentence to be passed, as Dr. Shawky Allam, the Mufti of the Republic who is close to the regime of President Sisi, rarely refuses to approve death sentences in such cases. Egypt has recently witnessed an unprecedented increase in death sentences. In 2020, death sentences were issued against 314 people, and 136 of the convicts were hanged, which set a new precedent in the history of Egyptian criminal justice institutions.
According to an initial count, in 2021 408 death sentences were issued, including 75 against whom a final judgment was issued after they had exhausted all stages of litigation, which means that they can be executed at any time. The authorities have already executed 52 people, many of whom are held on political charges. This reflects the thirst of President Sisi’s regime to use the death penalty as a tool to incite terror and fear in society. While most countries of the world are moving towards abolishing the death penalty, the regime continues to use and expand it.