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Raba’a Sit-in Case

Court / Presiding Judge

Cairo Criminal Court/Judge Hassan Farid

Procedural History

The court had its first session on December 12, 2015. On July 28, 2018, the papers of 75 of the defendants were referred to the Grand Mufti of the Republic for review of possible death penalty sentences; a verdict for all defendants was issued on September 8, 2018.


In September 2018, 75 defendants were sentenced to death, 47 defendants received life sentences, 374 defendants received 15-year sentences, 23 defendants—all of whom were minors—received 10-year sentences, and 215 defendants received five-year sentences. Five defendants’ cases were closed because they died during the trial. All defendants sentenced to prison terms lasting between five and 15 years were also sentenced to an additional five-year probation period upon their release. Additionally, all of the adult defendants in the case were ordered to be fired from their government jobs, prohibited from managing and accessing their assets, and ordered to return the value of anything that they reportedly destroyed.

Summary of Reasoning

The case dates back to the Raba’a al-Adaweya Square sit-in dispersal in August 2013. The 739 defendants faced a number of charges, including but not limited to planning and participating in an armed gathering, the murder of police forces tasked with breaking up the gathering, and the possession of weapons without a license.

Anecdotal Notes

The trial had a number of irregularities, including the fact that it was adjourned at least once because the defendants could not fit into the cage in the courtroom. Lawyers estimated that only about 300 of the defendants were in detention while the trial was ongoing, while the remainder were being tried in absentia. The defendants in detention were held well over the two-year maximum for pretrial detention before the case was ever referred to trial; most defendants did not have access to individual representation and were instead tried en masse. Among the defendants in the case was photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (popularly known as Shawkan), who was not a sit-in participant, but rather was arrested in the course of covering the Raba’a sit-in dispersal as a photojournalist. When it was ultimately issued, the verdict in the case was criticized by a number of nongovernmental organizations, as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who expressed her concern that the verdict did not result from a fair trial and that, if implemented, would constitute “a gross and irreversible miscarriage of justice.”

Legal & Judicial Implications

Because the case is a mass trial in which hundreds of defendants were being prosecuted collectively while in a terrorism circuit court, the case raises numerous concerns regarding the right to a fair trial and due process. The fact that many of the detainees in the case were held in pretrial detention beyond the two-year maximum allowed by domestic law suggests that severe constitutional and international legal violations additionally took place. Further, the court’s reliance on the death penalty as a punitive tool handed down to 75 individuals en masse, rather than as an exceptional measure which many argue must be abolished, is serious cause for concern. Finally, the fact that the case involved the trial of a photojournalist who was arrested while doing his job raises serious questions on the protections for freedom of the press and expression.