Users will encounter some terms in the Egypt Death Penalty Index with which they may be unfamiliar. These include:
Preliminary vs. confirmed death sentences
The Index tracks individuals who met one of two outcomes at trial before a civilian or military court in Egypt: either a “preliminary death sentence” (sometimes also called a “recommended death sentence” or a “death sentence referral”) or a “confirmed death sentence.” The distinction between these is central to understanding the way in which death sentences progress through the judicial system in Egypt.
Under Article 381 of Egypt’s Code of Criminal Procedure, there are two requirements on the three-judge criminal court panel before it may confirm a death sentence and formally issue its verdict. The first is that they have reached a preliminary, unanimous decision on the death sentence. The second requirement is that the panel of judges must refer this preliminary death sentence to the Grand Mufti – Egypt’s highest religious authority, which is currently held by jurist Sheikh Dr Shawki Allam. The Grand Mufti issues an opinion on the preliminary death sentence, which the panel of judges then takes into consideration before deciding whether to confirm the death sentence. Judges are not required to change their preliminary death sentence on the Grand Mufti’s advice, but they do consult his opinion. Courts do not make the Grand Mufti’s opinions public. Once the panel of judges confirm a death sentence, it can then be subject to appeal.
The Index tracks both preliminary death sentences referred to the Grand Mufti as well as the smaller number of death sentences that are confirmed by courts following the Mufti’s consideration. While some preliminary death sentences are not confirmed, preliminary sentences are an important aspect of the death penalty landscape in Egypt.
Criminal and political trials
The Index separates death penalty trials into two categories: political trials and criminal trials. This is a common distinction among contemporary observers of the death penalty in Egypt, but is not a distinction in law.
Capital trials in the Index are listed as ‘political’ where the alleged facts of the case and the perceived motivation for the commission of the offence are in some way connected to the political and societal changes that have arisen in Egypt since the January 2011 revolution. Charges often stem from broadly defined provisions for terrorism and state security offences in the Penal Code, which have enabled the broad criminalisation of the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms, in contravention of international standards. Offences which resulted in death sentences under the political category were:
- Terrorist acts
- Terrorist acts against Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority
- Membership in a terrorist entity
- Storming/destroying government installations or buildings
- Attacking or dispersing peaceful sit-ins or demonstrations by force
- Clashes between groups of civilians
By contrast, death penalty trials were listed in the Index as ‘criminal’ where the facts of the case and the perceived motivation for the commission of the offence were not deemed to be connected to political events in Egypt. Offences which resulted in death sentences under the criminal category included premeditated murder, rape and drugs trafficking.
Users will note that the Index includes more information about political trials than criminal trials. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, there is simply more information available about political trials because these trials receive considerably greater media coverage, both in Egypt and abroad, and because the larger average number of defendants in political trials affords human rights defenders more opportunities to access original court documents from those cases.
Additionally, there is some available information about criminal trials that has not yet been included in the Index. For example, while each death sentence resulting from a political trial is categorised in the Index according to one of the offences enumerated in the bullet pointed list above, the 1,077 death sentences resulting from criminal trials are all listed under the same generic offence category: “criminal incident.” Through analysis of media reports, it is possible to document the specific offences which led to many of these death sentences in criminal trials as above, murder, rape and drugs trafficking charges often led to death sentences. This is something Reprieve and Daftar Ahwal are currently working on, but because considerably more corroborating information was available on political trials in the form of court documents, priority was given to analysis of those trials. Upon the completion of a full listing of offences leading to death sentences in criminal trials, this information will be added to the Index, wherever it is legally possible for us to do so.
Users will also see references to different presidential periods in Egyptian history.
- The Mubarak period (14 October 1981 – 24 January 2011)
- The pre-Sisi period (25 January 2011 – 2 July 2013)
- The Abdel Fattah el-Sisi period (3 July 2013 – present)
The pre-Sisi period comprises the consecutive rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and then the rule of President Mohammed Morsi, the respective rulers of Egypt between the removal of President Hosni Mubarak (25 January 2011) and Morsi’s removal from power (2 July 2013). The Sisi period includes both the tenure of interim President Adly Mansour (4 July 2013 – 7 June 2014) and current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (8 June 2014 – present). While Mansour was appointed interim president by then-Field Marshal el-Sisi following the ouster of President Morsi on 3 July 2013, and stepped down when el-Sisi officially took office as president on 8 June 2014, it is widely accepted that throughout Mansour’s tenure as interim president, el-Sisi was Egypt’s de facto leader.
Data Inclusion Criteria
In assembling the Index, a set of criteria for including individuals in the database was compiled. These criteria are preliminary death sentence referrals, time period and geographical location.
Preliminary death sentence referrals
The Index only tracks individuals whose sentences were at least referred to the Grand Mufti following a preliminary death sentence. Individuals progressed to various outcomes following their referrals, including confirmed death sentences, prison terms and acquittals, but all individuals included in the Index were at the least referred for a preliminary death sentence by an Egyptian court.
All individuals included in the Index must have received a preliminary or confirmed death sentence between 25 January 2011 and 23 September 2018 (the day Reprieve and Daftar Ahwal stopped gathering data for this project). The date listed for each death sentence is the date of the verdict in that individual’s first trial. In some cases, some details about a death sentence could be confirmed, but the date of the verdict could not. In such cases in the Index, the date is marked unknown.
Wherever possible, statistical analysis of the data is separated into two periods: the pre- Sisi period (25 January 2011 to 2 July 2013) and the Sisi period (3 July 2013 to 23 September 2018).
All preliminary and confirmed death sentences must have been issued by Egyptian courts, regardless of the location of the alleged offence. These statistics are broken down by the individual Egyptian governorate in which each sentence was recommended or confirmed.
Data Verification and Expansion
After determining the inclusion criteria, a list of every known individual who received at least a preliminary death sentence during the specified period was compiled. Individuals were identified through three different types of sources: official documentation, legal sources, and human rights sources.
Wherever possible, entries in the Index were verified by a process of triangulation, whereby data was validated using cross-verification from as many of these three source categories as were available. This proved possible in many political trials, as the court judgments are more readily available and media coverage is extensive, but more difficult in criminal trials.
Approximately 60% of the entries in the Index (1,949 of a total 3,257) were identified and verified through official documentation, which includes written judgments, submissions made to the court by prosecutors and written police reports, in addition to either legal sources and/or human rights sources.
Where official documentation was unavailable, the remaining 40% of entries (1,308 of a total 3,257) were drawn from legal sources as the main source of information. These included media reports that quote directly from court archives, as well as court reporters, lawyers and law firms contacted by Reprieve and its partners.
The Index also includes information from human rights sources in the form of information published by Egyptian and international NGOs, activists, human rights defenders and campaigns, though these were used mostly as a complementary source of information to expand on information gleaned from official documentation and legal sources.
Building Metadata Structures
Once the information was collected and verified, to the extent possible, for 3,257 individuals the final step was to build a metadata structure to allow for the extraction of trends from the overall dataset. Analysis of metadata—a term which refers to data that provides information about other data—allows the user to build a much more nuanced picture of Egypt’s death penalty phenomenon.
The metadata structure was built into a confidential and protected Excel spreadsheet in which each row corresponded to an individual who received a preliminary or confirmed death sentence (3,257 rows). Columns were created to become a series of filterable metadata field (50 in total).
This structure allows for the use of sequential metadata fields to glean an ever more nuanced picture of the death penalty in Egypt. For example, a user of the Index can see exactly how many preliminary death sentences were definitively recommended by Egyptian courts between 25 January 2011 and 23 September 2018 (2,595). The user can then further narrow that to reveal how many of those sentences were recommended to defendants in absentia (742). By filtering through additional metadata categories, one can then reveal that of those 742 individuals, 273 were referred for a death sentence in 2014, of whom five were convicted in a military court. These filters can be combined in thousands of different ways to reveal the scope of Egypt’s application of the death penalty.
There were a number of difficulties in gathering and verifying the data in the Index. The three most significant challenges were geographical issues, security concerns and missing information.
Egypt is a large country, and many death sentences originated in remote districts, far from the capital. This creates a challenge for Cairo-based human rights professionals, as it is not feasible to travel to every governorate where a death sentence was recommended or confirmed. Geography also poses an obstacle to gathering accurate information about trial proceedings; it is difficult for Cairo-based lawyers and human rights defenders to travel repeatedly to remote parts of the country to attend trials, especially given that it is not uncommon for trials in Egypt to be adjourned dozens of times.
Ongoing security risks to human rights defenders also posed a challenge, as rights activists have been targeted, arbitrarily detained and imprisoned by the ruling regime. This issue was compounded by geographical challenges, as security concerns can make it unsafe for human rights defenders to travel long distances across the country doing human rights work.
Missing or inaccurate information was another challenge. Media reporting on death penalty trials was sometimes inaccurate, misused legal terminology, provided misleading or contradictory information, or did not consistently cover a case from beginning to end. This was particularly problematic in criminal cases, where data is often scarce or unavailable. Official court documentation from Egyptian trials is also often inconsistent, and some court judgments obtained by Reprieve and its partners were missing key information.
All of these issues were taken into consideration in the course of collecting and verifying information for the Index. To mitigate geographical issues, Reprieve sought out original court documents from trials around the country, often shared electronically by partner organisations or lawyers already in possession of these documents. In some cases, Reprieve investigators traveled to courthouses to obtain original court documents, taking all possible security precautions.
Issues related to missing information were addressed wherever possible by cross- verifying data with multiple sources. However, because the functioning of Egypt’s judiciary is extremely opaque, especially given the increasing use of enormous mass trials, there are some death sentences about which little to no information was available; the Index reflects where this is the case: as users navigate the Index they will see that some pieces of information (date of sentence, offence, etc.) are marked “unknown.” Users will also notice that some statistical fields are marked ‘0’. This does not mean that there are definitively zero individuals in that particular statistical category, but rather it was not possible to confirm the existence of any such individuals using the available data.