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Rights group slams Egypt for executing 49 prisoners ‘in days’

Human Rights Watch laments ‘systematic absence of fair trials,’ says 15 of those put to death were involved in violence following Sissi’s overthrow of democratically elected Morsi

Illustrative: In this July 28, 2018 file photo, Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zied, known by his nickname Shawkan, gestures in a soundproof glass cage inside a makeshift courtroom in Tora prison in Cairo. (AP/Amr Nabil, File)
Illustrative: In this July 28, 2018 file photo, Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zied, known by his nickname Shawkan, gestures in a soundproof glass cage inside a makeshift courtroom in Tora prison in Cairo. (AP/Amr Nabil, File)

CAIRO, Egypt — A leading international human rights group on Thursday condemned Egypt’s execution of 49 people so far this month — some arrested during a deadly crackdown on a mass protest in 2013 — and urged authorities in Cairo to grant fair retrials to those on the death row.

Between October 3 and 13, Egypt executed a total of 47 men and two women, according to a statement issued by Human Rights Watch. The group said 15 of those executed had been convicted of involvement in political violence that followed the military overthrow in July 2013 of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.

“Egypt’s mass executions of scores of people in a matter of days is outrageous,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for HRW. “The systematic absence of fair trials in Egypt, especially in political cases, makes every death sentence a violation of the right to life.”

An Egyptian government media officer could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.

Morsi hailed from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s oldest Islamist group. Since his ouster, authorities banned the group and rounded up most of its leaders, including the ex-president. Morsi collapsed in court last year — a death that human rights activists said was evidence of the “inhumane living conditions” at Egyptian prisons.

The New York-based rights group said 13 of this month’s executions took place in Cairo’s notorious supermax facility known as “Scorpion,” following clashes last month inside the death row ward that left four policemen and four inmates dead.

At the time, authorities said the four prisoners, who had been sentenced to death in separate terror-related cases, were killed during an escape attempt.

However, the Human Rights Watch statement cited an anonymous human rights lawyer who challenged the government’s account after having spoken with relatives of two of the inmates. The lawyer said the four prisoners ambushed and fatally stabbed the guards during a routine inspection. Other inmates later saw security forces enter the cell and gunshots were heard.

“Egypt has had a pattern of judicial and suspicious extrajudicial killings following attacks on security forces or civilians in recent years,” the HRW statement said.

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