Egypt: ‘Decade of shame’ since hundreds killed with impunity in Rabaa massacre

The 10-year anniversary of the Rabaa massacre is a stark reminder of how impunity for the mass killing of over 900 people has enabled an all-out assault on peaceful dissent, an erosion of any fair trial safeguards in the criminal justice system, and unspeakable cruelty in prisons over the past decade, Amnesty International said today.

In a detailed analysis, the organization highlights 10 human rights issues that have plagued Egypt since the massacre on 14 August 2013, in which military and security forces violently dispersed sit-ins in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ousted president Mohamed Morsi. Ten years on, not a single official has been held accountable for the bloodshed, highlighting the wider lack of justice and redress for victims’ families and survivors of torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings and arbitrary detention.

The last 10 years can only be described as a ‘decade of shame’. The Rabaa massacre was a turning point following which the Egyptian authorities have relentlessly pursued a zero-tolerance policy of dissent.

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa

“The last 10 years can only be described as a ‘decade of shame’. The Rabaa massacre was a turning point following which the Egyptian authorities have relentlessly pursued a zero-tolerance policy of dissent. Since then, countless critics and opponents have been killed in street protests, left to languish behind bars or forced into exile,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The lack of a robust and coordinated response by the international community to the Rabaa massacre has allowed Egyptian military and security forces to get away with mass murder quite literally. There is no hope of Egypt emerging from its ongoing human crisis without accountability for the actions of the Egyptian authorities on that darkest of days in Egypt’s modern history. States with influence on Egypt must echo the demands of survivors, victims’ families and human rights defenders for truth, justice and reparation.”

The human rights situation has drastically deteriorated in Egypt since the Rabaa massacre. These are 10 ways in which it has:

1. Crackdown on street protests

Since 2013, the Egyptian government has succeeded in eradicating street protests by adopting draconian laws that effectively criminalize the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and by resorting to the use of unlawful force and mass arrests.

2. Arbitrary detention

The Egyptian authorities arrested tens of thousands during and in the aftermath of the Rabaa massacre. While they initially targeted actual or suspected Muslim Brotherhood supporters, their repression soon extended to all peaceful critics.

Despite recent gestures of reform through the launch of the National Human Rights Strategy in September 2021 and the long-awaited National Dialogue in May 2023, the crackdown shows little signs of abating, while the arrests of state critics continue. Even though hundreds of dissidents have been released since the reactivation of the Presidential Pardons Committee in 2022, members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have been excluded from official pardons and thousands remain behind bars unjustly.

3. Unfair trials

Authorities have adopted and used draconian counter-terrorism legislation and other repressive tactics to keep thousands of critics in prolonged pretrial detention without charge or trial, sometimes for periods exceeding the maximum limit under Egyptian law of two years.

Emergency or military courts, or special terrorism circuits of criminal courts, have sentenced hundreds to death or long prison terms in grossly unfair torture-tainted mass trials.

4. Death penalty

In the past 10 years, authorities have intensified their use of the death penalty to repress dissent, with courts handing down thousands of death sentences and authorities executing over 400 people. In September 2018, a Cairo Criminal Court handed down 75 death sentences, 47 life sentences and heavy prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years to 612 people in a grossly unfair mass trial, in relation to their participation in the Rabaa sit-in. On 14 July 2021, the Court of Cassation upheld the death sentences against 12 of them, including senior Muslim Brotherhood figures.

5. Attacks on freedom of expression

The Egyptian authorities have suppressed any independent reporting, consolidated their grip on the media and cracked down on journalists daring to deviate from the official narrative through a catalogue of repressive tactics. They include the arrest and prosecution of dozens of journalists for doing their job, online censorship, and raids on independent media outlets.

6. Shrinking civic space

Independent civil society has been stifled through the adoption of repressive Law No. 149/2019, which gives the authorities overly broad powers over the registration, activities, funding and dissolution of NGOs.

Human rights defenders have also been subjected to unrelenting attacks, including unjust prosecution, arbitrary detention, travel bans, asset freezes and other forms of harassment.

7. Torture and ill-treatment

Those arrested in the Rabaa crackdown and thousands of others languish in cruel and inhuman conditions in Egyptian prisons. Since 2013, dozens have died in custody amid reports they were denied healthcare or tortured. Among the victims are ousted President Mohamed Morsi and senior Muslim Brotherhood figure, Essam El-Erian, who died in prison in 2019 and 2020 respectively, following years of unaddressed complaints of poor detention conditions and denial of healthcare.

Torture or other ill-treatment are widespread and systematic, with survivors and witnesses reporting the use of electric shocks, suspension by the limbs, indefinite solitary confinement, beatings and deliberate denial of healthcare.

8. Enforced disappearances

Security forces routinely hold those accused of involvement in terrorism or protests incommunicado and deny any information about their fate and whereabouts to their relatives and lawyers, for periods ranging from a few days to 23 months. During this time, detainees are subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and coerced into providing “confessions” or incriminating others. 

9. Discrimination

Authorities have claimed to respect and protect the rights of women and minorities, but have subjected men, women and children to discrimination on the basis of their sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and religious beliefs.

10. Impunity

The mass prosecution of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters contrasts sharply with the failure to investigate and hold to account anyone who has ordered, planned or committed violations in the massacre on 14 August 2013.

A fact-finding committee established by then Interim President Adly Mansour in December 2013 found that protest leaders bore the blame for the killings in Rabaa and largely absolved security forces of responsibility. Impunity was further entrenched after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratified a law in 2018 granting immunity from prosecution to top military leaders.

“Today’s grim anniversary should remind the international community of the desperate need to create meaningful pathways for accountability such as the establishment of a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council,” said Philip Luther.

“States must also put pressure on the Egyptian authorities in public and in private to release thousands of arbitrarily detained critics and opponents, including those with links to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

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