Three men who were executed in Cairo on Wednesday had previously testified in court that they were tortured and forced to confess to the killing of Egypt’s former prosecutor general, Hisham Barakat.
In a video of the trial from August 2016, Mahmoud el-Ahmady, Abulqasim Youssef and Abubakr Ali told an Egyptian court hearing that they had been pressured to confess to a crime they did not commit and that their bodies still had marks of torture on them.
El-Ahmady, a 23-year-old student of translation studies at al-Azhar University, said he was tortured for 12 days before being forced to record a video in which he said he took part in Barakat’s assassination.
Barakat was killed in a car bomb attack in the Egyptian capital in June 2015.
The Egyptian authorities later arrested dozens of people, accusing them of forming a militant cell with the intent to kill the top prosecutor.
An Egyptian court in July 2017 upheld the death sentences for 28 of the defendants, after a trial that was denounced by human rights groups as relying on “torture-tainted evidence”. On Wednesday morning, nine of the detainees were executed – including el-Ahmady, Youssef and Ali.
In court in August 2016, el-Ahmady questioned the credibility of official forensic reports that said they could not prove signs of torture.
“The forensic medicine authority is lying,” he said, pointing to marks on his knee and hands that he said indicated the torture he was subjected to.
He also asked the court, led by Judge Hassan Farid, to allow an independent committee to examine him and his co-defendants in a public hearing.
“The police officer who tortured us is right here in this court, but I would like you to give me guarantees that we will be safe if I mention his name,” he told the judge.
He said that an officer from Egypt’s Homeland Security apparatus told him he would be convicted of killing the prosecutor general. “I told him this would be unjust, but he said I will be convicted, anyway,” el-Ahmady said.
El-Ahmady was not the only one who recounted his treatment in the courtroom that day.
Youssef, 25, a former student at al-Azhar University, said he was subjected to “the most brutal forms of torture” during his interrogations.
“I was blindfolded, hung on the door, upside down, for seven consecutive hours, and electrocuted in sensitive areas of my body,” he told the court.
Youssef said he lost the ability to see out of his right eye as a result of the torture.
“When I objected to the continuous blindfolds, an officer said it was good for meditation, in order to provoke me,” he said.
“I was handcuffed from the back, in a position that prevented me from sleeping.”
For his part, Ali, a 24-year-old Zagazig University student, said that after his arrest on 25 February 2016, he was threatened with a knife inside the security truck that transported him to the Homeland Security headquarters in Zagazig, a city in the Lower Egypt governorate of Sharqeya.
He said he told the officers who arrested him that he had undergone a knee operation prior to his arrest.
Despite that, he said he was later electrocuted in that specific part of his body, as well as in his genital region and on his head. “They told me they would harm my parents,” he told the judge.
“They asked me why I killed the prosecutor general. I replied saying I did not kill anyone and I asked for a lawyer.”
Egypt’s use of executions condemned
On Wednesday, Amnesty International decried the executions of el-Ahmady, Youssef and Ali, and six other co-defendants in the case, saying it demonstrated Egypt’s “absolute disregard for the right to life”.
“Those responsible for the attack that killed Egypt’s former public prosecutor deserve to be punished – but executing men who were convicted in trials marred by torture allegations is not justice, but a testament to the magnitude of injustice in the country,” said Najia Bounaim, the group’s North Africa campaigns director.
In a statement, Bounaim said the Egyptian government has carried out 15 death sentences in the past three weeks, a sharp increase in the use of the death penalty.
“Egyptian authorities must urgently halt this bloody execution spree which has seen them repeatedly putting people to death after grossly unfair trials in recent weeks,” she said.
The Egyptian government did not immediately comment on Wednesday’s executions or respond to the criticism from observers and human rights groups.
Egyptian President Abdelfattah el-Sisi’s government has been accused of widespread human rights abuses, including the detention of tens of thousands of political opponents, as well as journalists, NGO workers and others.
Human rights groups have also said that the Egyptian court system has made a mockery of due process, with defendants often tried on the basis of confessions obtained through torture or other mistreatment.
Sisi has personally denied allegations of human rights abuses, telling US television news programme 60 Minutes in January that “there are no political prisoners in Egypt”.