UK urged to act over men facing death in Egypt for alleged childhood crimes
A group of British MPs has called on the foreign secretary to intervene in the case of four young men facing a death sentence in Cairo for crimes they allegedly committed as children.
One of them is Ammar El Sudany, who was in the bath when Egyptian security forces raided his home.
Only given enough time to throw on shorts and a T-shirt, the then 17-year-old was blindfolded and frogmarched from the building in handcuffs.
Now, three years on, he faces being sentenced to death on Monday at a mass trial of 304 people at the north Cairo military court, which has rumbled on for more than two years.
According to his family, he was arrested only because his father was a supporter of the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, and has never attended a demonstration.
It is claimed that the four men were charged with two offences of being members of a terrorist cell, after being arrested without a warrant and forced to make confessions under torture.
Last month, a cross-party group of MPs and Lords wrote to Dominic Raab asking him to act.
“Your intervention could ensure these young men are not sentenced to death,” the letter read.
In a separate letter, Labour’s shadow minister for peace and disarmament, Fabian Hamilton, also urged Raab to intervene in the case.
On Friday, a group of UN human rights experts urged the Egyptian authorities to release the men.
When the security forces came for El Sudany he was preparing to go to the Berkat Sabaa secondary school in Monofiyah, 50 miles north of Cairo.
He had memorised the Qur’an and, an able mathematician, wanted to pursue a career in engineering. His favourite hobby was Arabic painting and calligraphy.
Now, as his friends contemplate their university careers, El Sudany is a broken man, his body ravaged by beatings and torture that have left him, in his mother’s words, like the “people of the cave”, a reference to the Qur’anic story of those who lived in a cave for hundreds of years.
He was arrested on 4 December 2016, the day after his father, Yasser Abdelaziz El Sudany, had been detained for supporting Morsi, the democratically elected president overthrown in a military coup in 2013.
He was reportedly hung by his arms for three days and subjected to electric shock torture, even on his genitals.
Some beatings allegedly took place in the presence of his father, who pleaded with his interrogators to stop the torture, saying he would admit anything if his son was spared.
The teenager confessed to being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party Morsi had led but which is now a banned terrorist organisation under the new president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
The authorities accused El Sudany of joining a group called Hasm, a movement that draws young people to carry out violent attacks on the army, police and state institutions.
But his family said he was just a normal schoolboy wanting to do his best in life.
His mother, who did not wish to be named, wept as she told how her son has to fend for himself in a tiny, crowded cell, with nothing to occupy his time.
She said: “It is very difficult for Ammar to sleep due to the lack of space in his cell and the number of people in it. All cellmates must share one blanket, with no mattress. They sleep on the ground on top of one blanket, with nothing on top of them.
“Ammar has never been allowed pen and paper since his arrest. He is allowed no activities and no outdoor time.
“Ammar was an outstanding student. His friends are in university now, and he has been prohibited from taking any exams in prison.”
In November 2019, the UN working group on arbitrary detention demanded Egypt immediately release and compensate the men, saying capital punishment can never be imposed on children.
Caroline Lucas, who led the cross-party group of six MPs and five members of the House of Lords, said: “It is chilling that these young men are facing the death penalty in a mass trial of 304 people, after being arrested as children without warrants and subject to torture and incommunicado detention.
“If the UK’s commitment to human rights is to mean anything, the government must not remain silent in a case such as this. The foreign secretary should condemn this litany of abuses and call on President Sisi to ensure these men are not sentenced to death.
“We are appalled by this injustice and urge you in the strongest terms to act to prevent the imposition of death sentences on these young men, who have already been taken form their families and schools, and suffered torture and imprisonment, as teenagers.”
A spokesperson from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “The UK strongly opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. We regularly voice our concerns to the Egyptian authorities and will be raising this case via our embassy in Cairo.”
According to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, 82 people are at imminent risk of execution in political cases.
In 2019, 320 people were sentenced to death in 170 cases, both political and criminal.
There were 18 executions in six cases.
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, the human rights charity, said: “When we hear about mass trials where hundreds of defendants face death sentences, caged together in a courtroom, it can be easy to forget that each of those people has a story and a family.
“So when a mother breaks into tears after being asked to describe her son’s condition following months of torture and mistreatment, it reminds us of the human cost of President Sisi’s crackdown on dissent.
“Ammar El Sudany was a promising student on the cusp of adulthood, tortured and beaten simply because his father spoke out against Egypt’s ruler.”
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