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Egypt: Politicians and diplomats call for Brotherhood death sentences to be dropped

Twelve political opponents of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi are set for execution, provoking outcry from human rights groups
Protesters hold a banner reading "stop executions" during a demonstration against death penalties in Egypt in front of the Embassy of Egypt in Ankara on 2 March 2019 (AFP)

An array of international political and diplomatic figures have called on Egypt to commute a number of death sentences set to be carried out against activists in the country.

In a letter that marked the launch of the International Committee Against the Death Penalty (ICADP), the group denounced the upcoming executions planned for 12 Egyptians as "politically motivated and carried out under the cloud of political oppression and a corrupt and incompetent judiciary."

Among the signatories to the ICADP letter are former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman, Egyptian politcian Ayman Nour and Saudi campaigner Yahya Asiri.

The body, formed on Tuesday, also called for the abolition of the death penalty throughout the Arab world.

On 14 June, Egypt's highest appeals court upheld the death sentences issued against the 12 opponents of the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, paving the way for their potential execution.

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The country’s criminal procedure code gives the president 14 days following the court ruling to pardon the defendants or commute the death sentences.

Those on death row include a number of outspoken political figures who held leading roles in the 2011 uprising against longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, as well as in the demonstrations against the 2013 coup that deposed the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president.

The ICADP referenced the crackdown by Egyptian security forces on the sit-in in Rabaa al-Adawiya on 14 August 2013, which saw at least 800 people killed and has been has been described by Human Rights Watch as the "worst single-day killing of protesters in modern history".

"The 12 convicted all saw relatives and friends killed or wounded on that fateful day, making these sentences seem as acts of vengeance carried out by the state against all dissenting voices," read the statement.

"Therefore, the International Committee against the Death Penalty considers the Egyptian regime fully responsible for all the lives lost throughout the past few years, especially those sentenced to death, and demands that it halts all such sentences including the most recent."

The Muslim Brotherhood held power for nearly a year under Morsi's leadership before he was ousted by Sisi.

Morsi, meanwhile, died of a heart attack during a court session in June 2019. UN experts said the conditions in which the Muslim Brotherhood leader had been imprisoned may have directly led to his death, amounting to a "state-sanctioned killing".

International outcry

The death sentences handed to the 12 Egyptians has provoked international outcry.

Human Rights Watch described them as “a mockery of justice”, while Amnesty International said the sentences were “a stain on the reputation of Egypt’s highest appeals court and cast a dark shadow over the country’s entire justice system”. 

Crispin Blunt, a Conservative MP in the UK, said he had written to the British government about the impending executions.

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"Today, I wrote to (Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa) James Cleverly regarding last week's execution vericts for 12 Members of the MB for their alleged role in the dispesal of the Rabaa sit in," he tweeted.

"A non-reply to the execution verdict from the British government sends a signal that will be interpreted as complicity."

Meanwhile, US lawmakers and human rights groups have also joined the calls on Sisi to commute the planned executions. 

Representative Andre Carson called the death sentences that were upheld against the 12 last week "unjust" and an "egregious human rights violations", asking Sisi to intervene before the Monday deadline.

"President Sisi should commute these death sentences, and he must hold accountable the members of the security forces responsible for the mass killings at Rab'a Square," Carson said in a tweet on Tuesday.