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Crackdown in Egypt: Seven Men Tortured in State Custody Face Execution; 90 News Websites Blocked

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In Egypt, seven men are facing imminent execution based on confessions that human rights activists say were extracted under torture. Six of the men are recent college graduates who were arrested in 2014 along with more than a dozen others. While their testimony was captured on camera, the men say they were beaten, shocked with electricity and hung in painful positions and then provided with written testimonies they were forced to read. They were sentenced to death last month on terrorism charges after a military trial. In other news from Egypt, dozens of activists have been arrested in a series of sweeping raids in recent days. The arrests and raids come amid a nationwide crackdown against human rights activists and press freedom advocates. Over the past few weeks, the Egyptian government has blocked access to at least 93 news sites, including Al Jazeera, Huffington Post’s Arabic website, the self-publishing platform Medium and the local independent news site Mada Masr. We speak to the Egyptian film director and writer, Omar Robert Hamilton. In 2011, he co-founded the Cairo-based Mosireen media collective, which worked to film and document the Egyptian revolution. Hamilton’s debut novel is just out, titled “The City Always Wins.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Egypt, where seven men are facing imminent execution based on confessions that human rights activists say were extracted under torture. Six of the men are recent college graduates who were arrested in 2014 along with more than a dozen others. While their testimony was captured on camera, the men say they were beaten, shocked with electricity and hung in painful positions and then provided with written testimonies they were forced to read. They were sentenced to death last month on terrorism charges after a military trial. Human rights activists are now demanding a presidential pardon to save the men from execution. Egypt’s highest appeals court upheld the death sentences. On Saturday, a Cairo criminal court recommended the death penalty for an additional 30 people convicted of involvement in the 2015 assassination of Egypt’s top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat. This is presiding Judge Hassan Farid.

JUDGE HASSAN FARID: [translated] The court has ruled, with the consensus of all its members, for the referral of the cases’ documents to the grand mufti for review of what is being attributed to the accused: execution.

AMY GOODMAN: In other news from Egypt, dozens of activists have been arrested in a series of sweeping raids in recent days. The arrests came as Egyptians took to the streets to protest an agreement to hand over control of two islands to Saudi Arabia. Critics say the islands belong to Egypt and that their transfer is linked to the billions of dollars the Saudis have given to support the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government. In total, some 110 people have been arrested since just last week, with just under 40 released so far.

The arrests and raids come amidst a nationwide crackdown against human rights activists and press freedom advocates. Over the past few weeks, the Egyptian government has blocked access to at least 93 news sites, including Al Jazeera, Huffington Post’s Arabic website, the self-publishing platform Medium, the local independent news site Mada Masr.

Well, for more, we’re joined by Egyptian film director and writer Omar Robert Hamilton. In 2011, he co-founded the Cairo-based Mosireen media collective, which worked to film and document the Egyptian revolution. Omar Hamilton’s debut novel is just out; it’s called The City Always Wins.

Omar Robert Hamilton, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what’s happening right now in Egypt? Start with the imminent executions, unless they’re stopped.

OMAR ROBERT HAMILTON: Yeah. So the most urgent issue right now is these six men. They were rounded up randomly. A police guard was shot outside the house of a judge by a man on a motorcycle in early 2014. And about four days afterwards, 21 men were rounded up, and six of them were held. The first their families knew of them was when they appeared on television visibly beaten and confessing on video. When they tried to tell the state prosecutor that they had been tortured to the point of confession, they were returned to the same policemen that tortured them initially. They were beaten. They were electrocuted on their genitals. They had cigarettes stubbed out on their neck. These are sort of the hallmarks of the Egyptian security services. And even then—so then they were found guilty. They were sentenced to death. And on appeal, even the country’s highest appellate court upheld the verdict. So now, really, the only recourse is for presidential pardon to happen. And there is a window on that, and it has to happen by June 21st. After June 21st, if Sisi has not pardoned these men, they are executable. And—

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Wednesday.

OMAR ROBERT HAMILTON: Yes. So, yes, it’s very urgent at this point.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about this: Since the Trump administration has come into power, how the situation has changed in terms of U.S. policy toward Egypt and the region itself? Obviously, he went to visit Saudi Arabia not too long ago. Your sense of what the Trump administration impact has been in Egypt?

OMAR ROBERT HAMILTON: Yeah. Well, there’s a sense of a green light now, I mean, in the sense that Trump has no interest in even paying lip service to human rights or ideas of democracy. Sisi was the first foreign leader to call Trump and to congratulate him on his election. They’ve been very public about their affection for each other. They like each other’s style of governance.

Practically, I don’t know how much it actually changes. Under Obama, while Obama seemed distasteful and seemed to not like Sisi and his policies and didn’t invite him to the White House, he didn’t actually change anything. Egypt continued to receive military aid, as it does now, the second most of any country in the world. It gets around $1.3 billion in military aid every year. So, actually, Trump is really just a continuation of the Obama process or of the foreign policy that Obama did not change, but without the sort of sense of any kind of possibility of criticism coming from D.C.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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