The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed deep shock over the execution of 20 people in Egypt within one week, amid concerns that due process and fair trial guarantees did not appear to have been followed.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday, January 2, five men who had been sentenced to death by an Egyptian military court were hanged in Alexandria, four of whom had been convicted for an explosion near a stadium in Kafr al-Sheikh on 15 April 2015 that killed three military recruits and injured two others.
On December 26, 15 men convicted on terrorism charges were reportedly executed, found guilty by a military court of killing soldiers in Sinai in 2013.
"We understand the defendants were tried by military judges on the basis of legislation that refers cases of destruction of public property to military courts and in view of the victims being from the Egyptian Military Academy," HCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell told reporters on Friday at the regular news briefing in Geneva.
"Civilians should only be tried in military or special courts in exceptional cases," she continued.
Ms. Throssell also said it is important that all necessary measures are taken to ensure that such trials take place under conditions which genuinely afford the full guarantees stipulated in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a State party.
Despite security challenges facing Egypt, particularly in Sinai, Ms. Throssell maintained, "executions should not be used as a means to combat terrorism."
Military courts typically deny defendants the rights afforded by civilian courts, Throssell said, citing reports "that the prisoners who were executed may have been subjected to initial enforced disappearance and torture before being tried".
According to figures from Cornell University's Death Penalty Worldwide, there has been a sharp increase in executions in the years since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power.
From 2011, the year that former President Hosni Mubarak was deposed, to 2013, Egypt executed one person.
In 2014, Egypt executed 14 people. The following year, 22 more people were executed, and at least 44 people were executed in 2016.
Egypt extends state of emergency
Execution spree came as US-client President Abdul Fatah El-Sisi extended the state of emergencyon Tuesday.
Egyptian authorities first imposed a nationwide state of emergency in April 2017, after two church bombings killed at least 45 people. Similar extensions were announced in July and October last year.
The measure grants the president, and those acting on his behalf, the power to refer civilians to State Security Emergency Courts for the duration of the three-month period.
There is no appeal process for State Security Emergency Court verdicts.