Egypt: UN demand halting the execution of a monk tortured to confess to alleged crimes
Translation and editing by Committee for Justice
Geneva, December 21, 2020
UN experts have expressed their concern about the Egyptian authorities’ mistreatment of two members of the Coptic Christian minority, Wael Saad Tawdros Mikhil (known as Father Isiah) who faces the imminent risk of execution, and Farag Mansour Farag Sa’laab (known as Father Faltaous) currently serving a life sentence. The two were tortured to force them to confess to having committed a murder crime, and were convicted in an unfair trial based on those confessions.
Part of a wider persecution of Christians in Egypt:
In their memorandum, sent on 22 October 2020, which has yet to receive a response, the experts stated that the ill-treatment of Mikhil and Sa’laab is part of a wider persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Since 2015, attacks by militant groups have killed more than 140 Christian Egyptians, and discrimination in employment, education, and health care is common. Egyptian security forces have also been widely criticized for acquiescing in a pattern of sectarian attacks and for failing to prosecute the perpetrators of attacks on Coptic Christians.
According to the memorandum, Mikhil and Sa’laab have given up their professions as a teacher and accountant, and have devoted themselves to the life of monasticism since 2007. On July 30, 2018, a bishop was found dead inside the Abu Maqar monastery, and no witnesses came to the attack have come forward. The CCTV installed at the monastery was reportedly not working at the time of the incident, with more than 400 monks and visitors in the monastery on the day of the accident.
On 5 August 2018, Mikhil was informed that he had been expelled from his monastic rank by the Coptic Pope’s office, with immediate effect and on recommendation of the Monks Affairs Committee, for alleged misconduct. Sa’laab was also deprived of protection or representation from the church, and within hours the State Security forces arrested them, along with four other monks, where they were subjected to psychological and physical torture (electrocution), and interrogations for long periods of time, which prompted Sa’laab to attempt suicide.
As part of this coerced confession, Mikhil was forced to carry out a reenactment of the attack. This video was recorded and presented as evidence at trial. Throughout the tape, instructions and threats from the officials to Mr. Mikhil can be heard.
Discriminatory attitudes at trial:
Their trial also witnessed discriminatory attitudes by the judge, who regularly made derogatory and sarcastic comments to the monks, and these attitudes were also reflected in his failure to investigate their torture allegations. On April 24, 2019, without presenting any eyewitnesses or CCTV footage in court, it was reported that the judge relied almost exclusively on the coerced confession of Mikhil, and his coerced reenactment, to convict them of murder and sentence them to death.
The monks subsequently appealed to the Court of Cassation on July 1, and in 2020 the death sentence of Mikhil was confirmed, and Sa’laab sentence was reduced to life imprisonment in a session that lasted 15 minutes. The court used the 2017 amendments to Egypt’s Code of Criminal Procedure Law no. 57 of 1959, which limits the two-stage appeals process before the Court of Cassation, abolishes key fair trial guarantees and expedites execution, the court’s motive for doing so remains unclear, and is only presumed to be another example of extremely unfair treatment.
Discriminatory treatment in prison:
The monks are also subjected to discriminatory treatment in prison, as they are prevented from practicing religious rituals, and they are prohibited from attending the weekly mass service, and from meeting the priest in charge of prison service, although this right is guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution and the law. During visits with their families, a prison officer, a representative of the National Security and a police secretary are always present and they are not permitted to meet in private, and the visit is recorded by the secretary.
The experts expressed grave concern over allegations of torture and ill-treatment, the use of forced confessions as evidence to sentence the monks, including the imposition of the death penalty and the alleged denial of their religious rights while in detention in contravention of relevant international standards, as well as the use of the Code of Criminal Procedure Law no. 57 of 1959 to expedite the death penalty and circumventing the right of appeal.
UN urges halting the execution:
In their memo, the experts urged the Egyptian authorities to take measures without delay to stop any plan to execute the monk Mikhil and to reduce the death sentence issued against him, noting that the conviction of Mikhil and Sa’laab may constitute a serious violation of the applicable international human rights standards, including the prohibition of arbitrary detention, the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of life, as well as fundamental guarantees of fair trial and due process, including the right to appeal.
The experts called on Egypt to submit any investigations into the allegations of torture of monks to obtain confessions, as well as to provide detailed information on the laws and procedures in force in Egypt, which aim to ensure that statements obtained under torture or other ill-treatment from persons accused of criminal offences are not used as evidence against them, and clarify what steps judges need to take under the law to respond to allegations of torture, and how these laws and procedures are implemented in practice.