Q&A: Capital punishment in Egypt

Zeinab El-Gundy , Thursday 21 May 2015

Ahram Online answers common questions about capital punishment in Egypt

Muslim Brotherhood's senior member Mohamed El-Beltagy reacts as he sits behind bars with other Muslim Brotherhood members at a court in the outskirts of Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

Capital punishment is making headlines again in Egypt, after the Cairo Criminal Court on Saturday issued a preliminary death sentence for ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and 105 others in the "Wadi-Natroun jailbreak" case.

On Sunday, Egypt executed six men, after a military court sentenced them to death in October 2014 in the "Arab Sharkas" case, over charges including "killing army personnel". They filed an appeal, but it was rejected.

They were all hanged, according to the Egyptian penal code.

On Monday, a Mansoura criminal court sentenced one person to death and another three to life in prison in a "terrorism"-related case in the Daqahliya governorate.

Ahram Online answers common questions about capital punishment in Egypt.

What crimes are punishable by death in Egypt?

According to the Egyptian penal code, the following crimes are punishable by death: premeditated murder, murder or an offense resulting in death, "terrorism"-related offenses especially leading to death, some cases of rape, kidnapping, drug trafficking, treason and espionage. 

Perjury is also punished by death if it results in the death of an innocent person. 

What happens once a death sentence is issued in Egypt? 

When a criminal court issues a preliminary death sentence in a case against a number of defendants, it must first refer the whole case to Egypt's Grand Mufti for consultation.

Although the Grand Mufti's opinion is non-binding, Egyptian judges have traditionally adjusted their final rulings in accordance with his recommendations because they are based on Sharia (Islamic law). If the Mufti approves the death sentence, then the Criminal court issues a final death sentence.

After a criminal court sentences a defendant to death and he or she appeals the court ruling, the Court of Cassation has the right either to uphold the initial verdict of a death sentence or accept the appeal, and thus order a retrial in front of another panel of judges in the criminal court. 

Defendants have the right to appeal a death sentence at the end of the retrial, and the Court of Cassation can either uphold it or order another retrial.

This second retrial is held in front of the Court of Cassation, whose verdict is final.

Usually it takes years to reach to a final verdict and to carry out a death sentence. Sometimes it takes up to a decade. 

Can a defendant facing a death sentence be pardoned? 

Yes, if the last court upholds the death sentence as its final verdict in Egyptian law, the head of the state can issue a pardon or reduce a sentence after consulting with the cabinet, according to the Egyptian constitution's article number 155 as well the penal code's article number 74.

How many death sentences have been carried out in Egypt so far this year?

The Egyptian authorities have carried out seven executions in 2015 so far. 

Mohamed Ramadan was executed in Alexandria in March, after he was found guilty of “killing a child by stabbing him and throwing him off a roof,” according to the July 2013 court statement, during clashes between supporters and opponents of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. 

Six men were hanged on Sunday, after they were sentenced to death by a military tribunal in the "Arab Sharkas" case.

How many death sentences are currently being appealed in Egypt?

Up to 479 death sentences are currently being appealed in front of Egypt’s Court of Cassation.

How many death sentences are currently being revised by the Grand Mufti?

As many as 122 death sentences are currently being revised by Egypt’s Grand Mufti, whose non-binding opinion is given on death sentences before a final verdict.

How many death sentences were issued and carried out in the past in Egypt ? 

According to local and international reports, at least 709 people were sentenced to death in civilian courts between 1981 and 2000, with 249 of them reaching execution.

From 1992 to 2001, no less than 94 people were sentenced to death in terrorism-related charges in military and state security courts – at least 67 of whom were executed.

A relative increase in capital punishment became noticeable from 2009 to 2012. In 2010, 136 death sentences were pronounced, though it is unclear how many of them were carried out. At least one of the 115 death sentences from 2011 was implemented. In 2012, 91 people were sentenced to death . However, the amount who were executed is unclear.

What is the difference between military courts and civilian courts when it comes to capital punishment?

No appeal was possible to death sentences issued by Egyptian military courts until January 2014, when amendments to military judiciary laws made this possible. 

What is Egypt’s position on abolishing capital punishment?

Egypt is one of 40 countries worldwide not to have abolished capital punishment from its penal code.

The Egyptian constitution includes an article stipulating that Sharia (Islamic law), which upholds capital punishment, is one of the main sources of legislation.

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