On sixth anniversary of the killings, Amnesty publishes list of five continuing effects on human rights from the massacre
‘To this day, dozens remain on death row and scores behind bars simply for participating in the sit-in’ – Magdalena Mughrabi
The bloody events of 14 August 2013 – when Egyptian security forces killed at least 900 people during the violent dispersal of mass anti-government sit-ins in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares – still haunt Egyptian society, said Amnesty International today, with serious long-term effects on human rights.
More than 650 people who participated in the sit-in were given prison sentences of up to 25 years, and 75 others were sentenced to death after a grossly unfair mass trial. According to official statistics, eight security officials were also killed that day.
Many of those imprisoned who were released after five-and-a-half years in detention continue to face harsh probation measures, depriving them of their liberty 12 hours a day, severely impacting their lives and restricting their rights. Others sentenced in absentia remain in exile.
The brutal dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in marked a crucial turning point for Egypt. Since then, the authorities have been trampling over people’s human rights, and in particular the rights of those criticising the government, to the point that Egypt has become an open-air prison for critics.
Amnesty has published a list highlighting five ways in which the legacy of Rabaa continues to loom heavily over Egypt today – in terms of deaths sentences, unfair trials, abusive probation conditions, exile and blanket impunity (see below).
Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Middle East Deputy Director, said:
“Six years on, Egyptians continue to live in the shadow of the horrific events of the Rabaa massacre which marked the beginning of a sharp decline in the human rights situation in Egypt.
“The failure to hold a single member of the security forces or those with command responsibility over them accountable for the killings has fostered a climate of pervasive impunity, and emboldened security forces to carry out mass enforced disappearances and routinely subject detainees to torture and other ill-treatment without fearing justice.
“To this day, dozens remain on death row and scores behind bars simply for participating in the sit-in. Others who were sentenced in absentia live in exile unable to return home. Even those who were detained and later released, continue to face strict probation measures infringing on their daily lives.”
BRIEFING: FIVE WAYS RABAA STILL HAUNTS EGYPT TODAY
Seventy-five men have been sentenced to death in relation to their participation in the Rabaa sit-in. Those in custody have since appealed against these death sentences, but the Court of Cassation has yet to rule on the appeals. If the decision is upheld, they may face execution. Since 2013, Egypt has executed scores of people who were convicted following unfair trials.
Unfair trial and imprisonment in inhumane conditions
More than 650 people were given sentences of up to 25 years in prison related to their participation in the Rabaa sit-in, following a grossly unfair mass trial in which prosecutors failed to provide sufficient evidence and establish individual culpability.
Defendants, including protesters and journalists, were convicted of participating in “unauthorised protests” and other offences ranging from murder and incitement to violence to “membership in an illegal group”. Those imprisoned are forced to endure the inhumane conditions of detention in Egypt’s prisons. Many of those sentenced are held in prolonged solitary confinement at times amounting to torture. They report being beaten frequently and are denied access to lawyers, medical care or family visits.
Essam Soltan, a lawyer, former parliamentarian and leading member of the opposition al-Wasat party, has been in solitary confinement in al-Aqrab Prison since January 2014. He was arrested on 29 July 2013 and later sentenced to 25 years in prison in relation to the Rabaa protest. Soltan was initially confined to his cell for at least 23 hours daily and only allowed out into the corridor for an hour each day. However, in March 2015, the prison authorities stopped allowing him out and he told a court in May 2017 that he was being confined to his cell for 24 hours a day. Soltan’s treatment clearly amounts to torture under international law.
Abusive probation conditions
Even those released after serving five-and-a-half-year prison terms still face severe restrictions on their liberty due to Egypt’s repressive probation measures. The authorities have been using these draconian measures to further punish scores of men convicted in the Rabaa dispersal trial. Following their release from prison they are compelled to spend 12 hours each day – including overnight – in police stations. During this time, they are held in overcrowded spaces with poor ventilation and limited access to sanitary facilities, and are unable to receive visitors or communicate with the outside world. These punitive measures violate their rights to liberty, work, education and peaceful assembly and association, and can lead to other violations including ill-treatment, forced labour and exploitation.
“Rami” (not his real name), was convicted in the Rabaa mass trial in September 2018 and sentenced to five years in prison and five years’ probation on charges including “illegal gathering”, “incitement to break the law” and “involvement in violence”. He was forced to postpone his wedding given the length of his probation term, his inability to work and, as a result, his poor financial situation.
“Rami” reported that he witnessed first-hand how police officers explicitly told his friend that in compliance with the National Security Agency’s instructions, “political cases” are not allowed to take leave, after he requested a special leave to undergo medical surgery in April this year. “Rami” spends his probation in a police station in Cairo in a room holding 25 people. He described the room as overcrowded, filthy and infested with insects. Though he says that he does not get enough sleep at the police station, he avoids sleeping at home to maximise the time he spends with his family and friends. He also reported being punched and verbally insulted by police staff and forced to clean the police station.
Some of those who were prosecuted in absentia were forced to leave Egypt out of fear of arrest, torture, unfair trials and enforced disappearance. They have sought asylum in Europe, North America and Asia, amongst other places.
“Maged” (not his real name) left Egypt in 2013. He described witnessing the lethal use of force by the Egyptian police against protesters, seeing dead bodies and hearing screams. He was arrested by police officers and beaten, before they took him to a police station in Nasr city and detained him in an overcrowded cell for four weeks. He was released pending investigation and trial in relation to the Rabaa dispersal. “Maged” told Amnesty that his life was becoming unbearable due to the ongoing investigation against him. He was unable to acquire a certificate confirming that he had finished his military service (which is a legal requirement for companies to hire Egyptian men), and was told to report to the military police. He fled the country and later learned that he had been convicted and sentenced in absentia to 25 years in prison for participating in the Rabaa sit-in. He is currently seeking asylum in a European country.
“Maged” told Amnesty that he does not think that he will be able to go back to Egypt in the near future, as he fears that he would not get a fair trial and would be at risk of imprisonment and possibly enforced disappearance and torture.
For those killed and for their families, justice remains a faraway prospect. To date, not a single government official has been held accountable for the killing of almost 900 individuals. In 2018, the Egyptian parliament adopted a law that empowers the president to grant immunity from prosecution to top military leaders for any act committed in the course of their duties during between 3 July 2013 and 10 January 2016.
Many families also have to deal with uncertainty over the fates of their loved ones who remain forcibly disappeared. For Sara, a student who participated in the Rabaa sit-in, her last memory of her father, Mohamed al-Sayed, is of him being shoved into the back of a car outside their house by four masked burly men, two weeks after the Rabaa massacre. The car sped away and the attackers shot at the family and neighbours trying to chase after them. She has not seen him since. “Where is my father?”, she asks. “Where is the law in this country? What is the evidence against him?”
She said it took three days for the police to file a formal report of her father’s disappearance. A complaint by the family to the Public Prosecutor’s Office has yielded no results. Through informal sources she has discovered that her father is likely to be in a military prison somewhere in the country, but to this day has been unable to confirm his fate or whereabouts.