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Africa's human rights authority urges halting of executions in Egypt

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This picture, taken on July 28, 2018, shows members of Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood as seen inside the defendants' cage during their trial in Cairo, Egypt. (By AFP)

Africa's top human rights authority has called on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to halt executions linked to the 2013 protests at a square in the capital, Cairo.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights urged Sisi to suspend the death penalties against 26 men who protested the 2013 coup that ousted the country's first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, the Middle East Eye reported on Wednesday.

The report said the commission had asked Sisi in a November 3 letter to halt the executions while it investigated a complaint brought by former senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

"The details of the complaint... reveal that there is a risk of irreparable harm being caused if the planned death sentences were to be executed in the face of the alleged violations," Solomon Ayele Dersso, the commission's chairperson, wrote to Sisi. "The African Commission respectfully requests Your Excellency to intervene in this matter."

In the 20-page complaint, the former FJP members say Egypt violated multiple articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, to which Cairo is a signatory.

The 26 men sentenced to death are among 739 defendants in one of several mass trials of Morsi's supporters over the past years. Egypt's highest appeals court has confirmed the death sentences of the men. The group includes senior Muslim Brotherhood members and a former government minister.

Morsi was ousted and taken to jail after a military coup was launched by Sisi, who was head of the country's armed forces back in 2013.

On August 14, 2013, Egyptian security forces launched deadly attacks on protest camps at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Cairo and Nahda Square in Giza. Hundreds of protesters were killed by security forces in what was recorded in modern Egyptian history as the Rabaa Massacre.

Rights groups said the massacre "probably amounted to crimes against humanity."

No policemen or security personnel have been summoned to court over the massacre. Instead, the junta's court judges have handed hundreds of political prisoners hefty sentences and death penalties.

Since the coup, the military-backed government of Sisi has overseen a crackdown on Morsi's supporters as well as pro-democracy activists and other critics of the ruling junta.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday voiced concern about Egypt's "appalling" human rights record.

Blinken said Washington and Cairo were working together on reforms in pre-trial detentions and to protect a free press and freedom of expression in Egypt.

The top US diplomat insisted that it was in Cairo's interest to resolve its issues.

"There are also other issues of concern, more areas where positive steps can be taken, not because the United States or anyone else is asking, but because… it's what's in the interest of the Egyptian people," Blinken said.

A group of experts on Egypt wrote to Blinken on Monday, urging him to "speak forthrightly about Egypt's appalling human rights record."

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