Italian government urged to rethink Egypt ‘justice’ project, amid death-penalty concerns

November 16, 2016

Image of Ibrahim Halawa with his hands tied in a chair in a warehouse

Italian judges have called for a ‘reevaluation’ of Italy’s involvement in the Egyptian justice system, amid concerns over human rights abuses in Egypt.

The Consiglio Superiore Della Magistura (CSM) said today that the body was meeting to discuss its involvement in an EU project that aims to ‘modernize’ the courts system in Egypt, after two of its members raised concerns about human rights abuses in Egypt. The concerns follow Italian media reports last week about the EUR10 million project.

Documents obtained by human rights organization Reprieve, and reported last week by L’Espresso, show that the EU-led project, entitled ‘Support to the Administration of Justice in Egypt’ (SMAJ), has involved equipping juvenile courts; while Italian judges have provided training for members of the Egyptian judiciary who are responsible for the handing down of death sentences.

One member of the CSM, Judge Piergiorgio Morosini, today tweeted a statement in which he urged a reevaluation of the project, and called on Italy’s government to provide “more precise information” about the protection of human rights in Egypt. He also called for more details of an ongoing Egyptian investigation into the murder earlier this year of Italian citizen Giulio Regeni, apparently at the hands of Egypt’s security forces. His statement comes amid growing concerns over the failure of Egyptian authorities to investigate Mr Regeni’s murder fully.

Egyptian judges have sentenced hundreds to death in mass trials, and Reprieve has raised concerns that the project could put Italian officials at risk of complicity with abuses including mass proceedings, and the death penalty for juveniles.

Judge Morosoni also noted that there were credible reports of a “human rights emergency” in Egypt, including arrests and forced ‘disappearance’ of juveniles and others. Reprieve is assisting Ibrahim Halawa, an Irish citizen who was among hundreds of juveniles arrested in Cairo following protests in 2013. Ibrahim faces a sentence in a mass trial of 494 people, which is taking place in a courtroom purpose-built to accommodate the large number of defendants.The Egyptian government has refused to allow the EU to monitor Ibrahim’s trial.

Last week, the court postponed the trial and extended Ibrahim’s detention again, as it has done repeatedly since 2013. Ibrahim has reported being regularly tortured in pre-trial detention.

Egyptian officials have sought to ensure that Italian-Egyptian cooperation continues, despite criticisms over the investigation into Mr Regeni’s murder. Chief prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman has said: “We are eager to continue [judicial] cooperation” with Italy.

A UK body, Northern Ireland Co-operation Overseas (NI-CO), is also involved in the EU project. Ministers in Northern Ireland have so far refused to suspend its work.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said:

“It’s welcome that Italian judges are looking more closely into Italy’s involvement in Egypt’s appalling mass trial system. Since President Sisi took power in 2013, Egyptian judges have overseen hundreds of death sentences and scores of mass trials, including of people like Ibrahim Halawa, who were arrested as children. Ibrahim and hundreds of others – including Giulio Regeni – have suffered a nightmarish ordeal at the hands of Sisi’s government, and Egypt’s human rights record is worse than ever. The Italian authorities must urgently reconsider its involvement in this project, which appears to risk complicity in terrible abuses.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064.

2. L’Espresso’s report can be seen here, while today’s comments from Italian officials involved in the SMAJ project can be seen on Twitter, here and here.

3. Further detail on Ibrahim Halawa’s case is available at the Reprieve website, here.