INTERIGHTS and EIPR (on behalf of Sabbah and Others) v Egypt

Forum: African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
INTERIGHTS’ role: Co-representative
Keywords: Torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, fair hearing, death penalty

Latest Case Information

On 13 February 2012, Egypt's interim government announced the repeal of the death sentences issued by the Supreme Emergency State Security Courts against three men for their alleged roles in the October 2004 bombings in the Sinai Peninsula tourist resorts of Taba and Nuweiba and the 2005 bombings at Sharm el Sheikh. This major development follows the recent adoption by the African Union of a far-reaching decision of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights which found Egypt in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights for the torture of the three men and their unfair trial in a special emergency court. The decision was handed down by the African Commission in a case brought by the Cairo-based organisation Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and INTERIGHTS. Following a trial which fell far short of international fair trial standards, including Africa’s own fair trial and ‘Robben Island’ guidelines which deal with torture, the three men (Mohamed Gayez Sabbah, Ossama Mohamed Abdel-Ghani Al-Nakhlawi and Younis Mohamed Abu-Gareer) were sentenced to death for their alleged role in the attacks.

The three men were among the thousands who were rounded up by Egyptian authorities in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. They were held in incommunicado detention and subjected to torture including electric shocks, beatings and hanging by their hands and legs for days and weeks on end. During their months of torture and interrogation by intelligence services they were denied access to lawyers and to medical treatment. They were not brought before a court, nor did they have access to legal representation, until the day their criminal trial began. Following a sham trial by the Supreme State Security Emergency Court, they were convicted on the basis of confessions extracted under torture and sentenced to death with no right of appeal.

The Commission found multiple human rights violations, notably of torture, and violations of detention and fair trial rights. The Commission clarified that these rights include the right to access a lawyer and medical care shortly after detention, trial before an independent judiciary, and preclude the use of evidence obtained through torture in any judicial proceedings. The Commission concluded that implementing the death sentences handed down by the State Security Court would be a violation of the right to life given the irregularities that characterised its proceedings.

The Commission called for Egypt not to execute the applicants but to immediately release them and provide compensation; to reform the State Security Courts so that they become independent and capable of providing a fair trial; to ensure access by detainees to lawyers, doctors and courts; and to bring their emergency laws into line with international standards. The Commission had already requested that Egypt not execute the men before it had the opportunity to consider the case fully.

The Commission emphasised that the state security courts, which remain operational in Egypt, are not independent and cannot provide fair trials. It found that the Supreme State Security Emergency Court’s competence and procedures “fall far short” of international fair trial obligations, adding that: “the degree of control which the President of the Republic exercises over the composition, conduct and outcome of proceedings before the State Security Court is antithetical to the notion of an independent and impartial judicial process.” This adds to the growing body of decisions from the Commission that condemn such special tribunals.

The decision also sets down important benchmarks for African states concerning their obligations to prevent torture. These include the requirement of providing early and regular access to lawyers and doctors for all persons in detention. It also makes clear that “evidence and confessions obtained through torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment cannot be used in judicial proceedings”. The principles in this case are applicable to many countries across the region where there is insufficient oversight of police and security services in their detention of suspects, and where confessions continue to be used in criminal trials absent suitable safeguards.

Read the press release from INTERIGHTS and EIPR here.

Read the African Commission judgment here.

Read an INTERIGHTS document explaining the case and the decision here.

Visit the EIPR website here.

INTERIGHTS Contact: Solomon Sacco at

Background Information

INTERIGHTS and EIPR (on behalf of Sabbah and Others) v Egypt concerns the imposition of death sentences on three men allegedly involved in bombing the Red Sea resorts of Taba and Noueiba in October 2004. The complaint alleged a number of violations of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, including torture in detention, failure to meet fair trial standards, and the absence of a right to appeal against a sentence of death.

The three applicants were among over two thousand people rounded up in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. The three were detained arbitrarily, denied access to a lawyer or the opportunity to be brought before a court. They were subjected to extensive mistreatment and torture, which included electrical shocks, beatings, hanging from their hands and legs and prolonged sensory deprivation, after which they were forced to ‘confess’ to involvement in the bombings. Egypt failed to provide access to counsel, courts and medical personnel, and permitted the use in court of evidence obtained through torture. Substantially based on their ‘confessions’ obtained through torture, the three were charged with crimes in relation to the bombings.

The applicants were tried by the Supreme State Security Emergency Court in a trial which was characterised by both procedural and substantive anomalies. The Supreme State Security Court is subject to the control of the President of Egypt through, among other things, his control of appointment to the Court, his power to suspend cases, and his power to commute, change, suspend or cancel any decisions, including the power to order the retrial of the case before another court. The Court found all three applicants guilty, based substantially on their ‘confessions’. On 30 November 2006, the applicants were sentenced to death by hanging; sentences that were ratified by then President Hosni Mubarak.