Italy trains Egyptian judges despite death sentences and torture
November 10, 2016
The Italian government has been supporting the Egyptian justice system as part of an EU project that risks complicity in abuses such as mass trials and the death penalty.
Italy’s highest judicial body, the Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura, is one of four contractors involved in the €10 million EU project in Egypt, named ‘Support to the Modernization of the Administration of Justice’.
Human rights organization Reprieve has unearthed documents showing that the project includes training Egyptian judges who oversee death sentences; providing steel bars and a metal cage to a juvenile court, and video technology for ‘interview rooms’.
The project, and Italy’s involvement in it, has caused concern because Egyptian judges have handed down hundreds of death sentences in mass trials in the past three years. The documents seen by Reprieve make no mention of the risk of these abuses.
Reprieve is assisting Ibrahim Halawa, an Irish citizen who was among hundreds of juveniles arrested in Cairo following protests in 2013.
Halawa, from Dublin, is facing a death 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 court has repeatedly postponed the trial and extended Halawa’s detention since 2013 – most recently, on 2 October 2016. Halawa has reported being regularly tortured in pre-trial detention. The Egyptian government has refused to allow the EU to monitor the trial.
Italy’s involvement in the project is revealed amid growing concerns over the failure of Egyptian authorities to investigate fully the murder of an Italian student, Giulio Regeni, apparently at the hands of Egypt’s security forces.
Recent weeks have also seen an adviser to the Regeni family – human rights activist Ahmed Abdallah – undergo a trial in Egypt, apparently in relation to protests.
After Mr Regeni’s death, Egypt’s chief prosecutor, Mustafa Suleiman said: “We are eager to continue [judicial] cooperation” with Italy. He added: “Judicial cooperation between Egypt and Italy is positive and Italy is one of the best countries that deals with Egypt when it comes to judicial matters.”
Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:
“The Egyptian courts have overseen hundreds of death sentences and scores of mass trials since 2013, and they continue to sanction the extended detention and torture of hundreds of people – including people arrested when they were children, like Ibrahim Halawa. This is part of the same huge wave of abuses that has seen the Sisi government relentlessly target protestors, journalists and people like Giulio Regeni. It is deeply worrying that the Italian government appears to be helping prop up this system. The Italian authorities must explain exactly what their work on this project involves – and what measures they are taking to avoid 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] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.
2. Further detail on Ibrahim Halawa’s case is available at the Reprieve website, here.