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Press Statement: Guernica 37 Files Investigative Report with UN into Death of President Morsi

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

LONDON, 12 November 2019 – The International Legal Team instructed by the family of former President Mohamed Morsi, and furthermore by the Egyptian Revolutionary Council (ERC), a pro-democracy group that is opposed to military dictatorship and campaigns actively for the establishment of a democratic and civil state, issued the following statement following a detailed investigation into the circumstances surrounding the former President’s arrest, trial and subsequent death in custody.

On 17 June 2019, the first, and only democratically elected President of Egypt, Dr. Mohamed Morsi, died, in a cage, in a Cairo Court.

The death of Dr. Morsi, although anticipated by some given the horrific prison conditions that he had been forced to endure, still came as a shock to his family, supporters and members of the international community alike.

At the very least, his conditions of detention, that did, on any objective assessment, satisfy the definition of Torture and/or Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, were a direct contributor to his death.

At the instruction of members of Dr. Morsi’s family, Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers has analysed his treatment whilst detained, including the trial process he was subjected to, and now releases its conclusions and recommendations, including a request that the UN now mandates an independent inquiry mechanism to investigate the unlawful death of Dr. Morsi.

On 8 November 2019 the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, or Arbitrary Summary Execution and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a statement calling for an effective independent and impartial investigation into the unlawful death of Dr. Morsi and of all other prisoners who had died in custody since 2012.

In 2011, Egyptian citizens took to the streets to protest the rule of Hosni Mubarek, demanding change, demanding freedom, and demanding democracy; no longer were they content to live under autocratic rule.

Such was the scale of the protests, a demonstration became a revolution, and Mubarek resigned.

The spirit of change was infectious, and it spread throughout the State, citizens looked to real change, to root and branch reform, and to that which the demands made in Tahrir Square symbolised.

For an all too short period, it appeared that the revolution had achieved its objective.

In May 2012, Egypt held its first truly free, inclusive, and therefore democratic election, with President Mohamed Morsi being declared its winner.

Egypt was set to enter a new age.

It did however only last for a further 12-months.

In July 2013, President Morsi was forcibly removed from office by way of military coup d’état led by Egyptian Army Chief, General (at that time) Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Morsi was promptly arrested and detained in respect of a number of criminal allegations, whilst Sisi assumed the Presidency.

During the following six years, Morsi was subject to a court process that Amnesty International described as being “a charade based on null and void procedures”. It is quite clear that the Sisi military regime hijacked the courts, stripping them of their independence, circumventing the rule of law and imposing an autocracy based on fear and repression. Egypt entered a new dark era.

The report by Guernica 37, which builds on earlier reports released in 2016, 2017 and 2018 clearly demonstrates the trial process was replete with violations of basic fair trial standards, including a refusal to allow the former President appropriate access to his legal team, a refusal to disclose evidence that the Prosecution sought to rely upon, and his ability to speak in his own defence entirely curtailed by virtue of the fact that he was held in a ‘cage’ in court that was difficult to see through, and further, a cage that had its microphones controlled by the presiding judge and therefore could be ‘turned off’ at a whim.

This opacity was a theme running throughout the process and detention.

The report released this week shows the former President was only allowed visitation rights in extreme rarity.

His family report only being allowed to see him on a handful of occasions, his legal team the same, and when he was granted permission to see his instructed counsel, it was always in the presence of prison guards, and therefore nothing was confidential, resulting in preparation for his trial(s) being all but impossible.

If this was not bad enough, his treatment was demonstrably worse.

The former President was not a well man when he was detained, suffering from a number of documented medical conditions that required regular treatment and assessment, including diabetes.

Not only was there a refusal to allow him to access treatment for those conditions, such was the negligence and/or intention of the prison and therefore the Government, the former President developed new conditions that debilitated him further, including the sustained loss of vision in his left eye as a direct result of him being denied treatment for diabetes, recurrent diabetic comas, bone and muscular pain, including a significant and sustain injury to his back and spine as a consequence of being forced to sleep on a cement floor, and further, significant deterioration of liver and kidney function due to malnutrition, what little food that was provided, being spoiled.

As Guernica 37 found, it is clear, that on any objective assessment, the former President was subjected to systematic and prolonged ill-treatment of such severity that it constituted torture, and further he was forced to suffer indignities and conditions of detention that fall so far below domestic and international standards, to render them criminal.

As the UN Experts reported in its statement of 8 November 2019:

"Dr. Morsi was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day…He was not allowed to see other prisoners, even during the one hour a day when he was permitted to exercise. He was forced to sleep on a concrete floor with only one or two blankets for protection. He was not allowed access to books, journals, writing materials or a radio. [He] was denied life-saving and ongoing care for his diabetes and high blood pressure. He progressively lost the vision in his left eye, had recurrent diabetic comas and fainted repeatedly. From this, he suffered significant tooth decay and gum infections….The authorities were warned repeatedly that Dr. Morsi’s prison conditions would gradually undermine his health to the point of killing him. There is no evidence they acted to address these concerns, even though the consequences were foreseeable."

It is no mere assumption that this treatment contributed to his death, and there is a compelling argument that it was the treatment at the hands of the State of Egypt that killed him and that that was the intended result.

It is as a result of this clear criminality, that Guernica 37 now calls upon the UN, specifically the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the relevant Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups, to commission an independent investigative mechanism to consider the death of the former President, and the wider issues, in the absence of any intention by the Government to conduct any meaningful investigation.

The death of former President Mohamed Morsi is tragic and although it is only one man, it is symbolic of the position adopted by the Government of Egypt, and how the intention to silence opposition and dissent at all costs pervades every element, including the prisons and Court system.

Guernica 37 has previously published a report into fair trial violations in Egypt and highlighted the reality of that which faces anyone who dares to voice opposition or criticism of the Sisi military regime, but this report is not enough. The systematic use of arbitrary arrest, torture in custody and use of the courts in a manner that can only be described as a flagrant and persistent denial of justice can no longer be ignored.

Resultingly, Guernica 37 calls upon the UN to not merely consider the case of Morsi, but to widen any the terms of reference of any investigation into Egypt; it must encompass all elements, and allow a light to be shone on the regime in Egypt, a regime that Toby Cadman, one of the report’s authors notes:

has sought to reduce the space for democracy to such an extent, that the word has little, if any meaning in today’s Egypt; Egypt is a Dictatorship.”

It simply cannot be acceptable for any regime to escape the focus of the international community and the UN, particularly when that regime, as another of the report’s authors, Carl Buckley notes:

is one that believes it can ignore its obligations under domestic and international human rights law, that it is not bound by those treaties, and therefore has carte blanche to act in any way it chooses.”

Dr. Maha Azzam, Head of the ERC said:

Irrespective of individual Egyptians political ideology or belief, Dr Morsi represented the very first time Egyptians exercised their democratic right to elect a President of their choosing. His death, therefore, is an affront to all Egyptian citizens and is a crime against their sovereignty. We intend to pursue all those responsible for torture and murder of the president and political dissidents in Egypt by all legal means and bring them to justice.”

Should the investigation into Dr Morsi’s death find that he was murdered whether by torture or direct means, the ERC has indicated that it intends to instruct Guernica 37 to bring the case before the appropriate national or international judicial authority. Likewise, should the wider investigation find that there is compelling evidence of premeditated use of torture as a form of extrajudicial killing of detainees the ERC has indicated it will also seek to take the case to the the appropriate national or international judicial authority.

We call on the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, or Arbitrary Summary Execution, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and other Special Procedures mandate holders to establish, as a matter of urgency, an effective independent and impartial investigation into the unlawful death of Dr. Morsi and of all other prisoners who had died in custody since 2012.

Finally, we call on the member states of the United Nations who have signed the Convention Against Torture (to which Egypt is a signatory) to urge Egypt, through all appropriate means, to immediately cease from what is effectively their practice of torture and allow medical and humanitarian aid to reach all political detainees in Egyptian jails.



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