Mass trials and the death penalty in Egypt

Image of guards shouting at people and prisoners fighting to get out from behind bars

  • 28 executions since December 2017

  • 15 executed on December 26th

  • Courts recommend mass death sentences for 100 defendants at once

  • Death sentences in Egypt make “a mockery of justice” – UN

Mass trials have routinely led to death sentences, resulting in a dramatic expansion of Egypt’s application of the death penalty. Between 2011 and 2013, Egypt sentenced 323 people to death but carried out only one execution. Since Sisi took power, statistics compiled by Reprieve indicate that between January 2014 and February 2018, courts recommended death sentences for at least 2,159 individuals, and the state carried out at least 83 executions. Since December 2017, Egypt has executed 28 people, including a mass execution of 15 people at the same time on December 26th.

This increase in death sentences is attributable largely to the advent of mass trials. Courts have begun sentencing dozens of defendants to death at the same time – on four separate occasions since 2013, courts have recommended death sentences for more than 100 people at once.


Watch: Irish student Ibrahim Halawa discusses his experience of Egyptian prisons, where he spent over four years facing a death sentence for attending a protest.


Every death sentence resulting from a mass trial in Egypt is illegal under international law, which states clearly that only full compliance with the due process and fair trial rights guaranteed by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) distinguishes capital punishment from arbitrary execution. Egypt’s mass trials necessarily entail due process and fair trial violations, rendering any resulting death sentences unlawful.

UN human rights experts have repeatedly made this point, noting that these trials are “not good enough for the imposition of the death penalty,”and describing death sentences in Egypt as “a mockery of justice,” “in breach of the ICCPR,” and “a staggering violation of international human rights law.”

This criticism extended to a March 2014 trial in which a court in the central Egyptian governorate of Minya recommended death sentences for 529 defendants at the same time. Shortly after those sentences were handed down, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a press release condemning the death sentences, stating:

A mass trial of 529 people conducted over just 13 two days cannot possibly have met even the most basic requirements for a fair trial. In accordance with international human rights jurisprudence, “the imposition of a death sentence upon conclusion of a trial in which the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have not been respected constitutes a violation of article 6 of the Covenant.”

Read more from our investigation into Egypt’s crackdown on fundamental freedoms, the rise of mass trials and the death penalty:

Egypt’s crackdown on dissent – and the two laws underpinning it

Draconian laws ban nearly all forms of public demonstration, and allow all protesters to be punished collectively Read more…

I was arrested in Cairo when I was 17 and faced the death penalty – by Ibrahim Halawa

I was falsely accused of violence, all for the “crime” of attending a protest. I endured years of torture. Until the day of my acquittal, there was a distinct possibility I would be sentenced to death. Read more…

Article 122 – the loophole that allows death sentences for children

The law that allows child of 15 to face death penalty in Egypt. Read more…


Learn more about Egypt’s crackdown on human rights, by reading our report: ‘Stolen Youth’.