Egypt’s execution of 23 detainees, 15 of whom were political prisoners, over the weekend has ignited condemnation online.
For years, rights groups have lamented Egypt’s judicial system which metes out death sentences in mass trials with little or no evidence.
Often defendants are tortured to obtain confessions.
Of the political detainees who were executed over the weekend, 13 were on H1 block of Scorpion Prison, where at the end of September four inmates and three police officers died in a contested event.
At the time, the Interior Ministry announced that the prisoners were attempting to escape, whilst human rights activists cast doubt on the likelihood of this account, given that Tora Prison is one of the most secure detention centres in the country.
The fact that the 13 witnessed what happened has raised concern over why they were executed so quickly, particularly as under Egyptian law defendants on the same case on death row are executed together.
The 13 prisoners on H1 block were made up of ten defendants of 13 on the same case and three of 20 of the same case, whilst the remainder in the two cases were not executed.
The events of what happened during the so-called ‘prison break’ are still unclear given that human rights workers do not have access to the remaining prisoners on H1 as they have very limited contact with the outside world and mobile phones are banned.
Although the 13 men had exhausted all forms of appeal against their death sentences, the hangings could have been sped up because they witnessed what happened and to send a message to the remaining detainees to keep quiet.
Of the 15 political prisoners who were executed over the weekend, at least two of them were members of the Muslim Brotherhood – Yasser Al-Abasiri, 49, and Yasser Shukr, 45.
They were detained for taking part in the protests against the coup in the case known as the “Library of Alexandria” after the demonstrations which took place in front of Alexandria’s library.
In August 2013, protests erupted against Egyptian security forces in front of the Library of Alexandria, against the backdrop of the bloody dispersal of the sit-ins of supporters of the late President Mohamed Morsi in the Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares in Cairo. These protests and clashes with security forces resulted in the deaths of 15 people, including two security personnel.
Egypt often carries out mass executions. In February this year, eight were executed after being tortured to give false confessions.