Belfast, Ireland (Reprieve) – A state-owned Belfast business is helping to furnish an Egyptian juvenile court, despite concerns over mass trials and death sentences in the country – including in the case of an Irish juvenile.
New research by human rights organization Reprieve has revealed that, since March 2015, Northern Ireland Cooperation Overseas (NI-CO) – a state-owned UK business that has contracts with the Foreign Office – has been involved in a €10 million EU-funded project to support “the Administration of Justice” in Egypt, in partnership with the country’s Ministry of Justice.
According to documents relating to the deal, unearthed by Reprieve, the 4-year project includes the provision of equipment by NI-CO for Egypt’s court system. Tender documents, apparently provided by the Egyptian government, outline a need for steel structures, security bars and benches for courtrooms, and surveillance equipment for ‘interview rooms’.
The documents also outline detailed plans for a courtroom for children, including a ‘secure waiting area’ made out of steel bars, and ‘soft chairs for children’, which the documents say should be waterproof, and provided in red, white and black – the colours of the Egyptian flag. The project has reportedly included a workshop with 98 judges from Egypt’s Court of Cassation, the highest court in Egypt, which has final say over death sentences.
NI-CO’s EU-funded work in Egypt will raise fears over UK and European complicity in abuses associated with Egypt’s justice system. Since July 2014, Egypt’s government has come under heavy criticism for human rights abuses that have seen protestors, journalists, opposition activists, and juveniles arrested, with reports of torture common. Egyptian courts have handed down thousands of death sentences, in mass trials that have failed to meet international fair-trial standards.
Among the juveniles who have been arrested is Ibrahim Halawa, a student from Dublin whose trial alongside 493 other prisoners was postponed yesterday for the 15th time since it began in 2014.
Ibrahim – who was 17 when he was arrested – is facing a potential death sentence along with hundreds of others, who face identical charges relating to protests. Repeated hearings in the mass trial since 2014 have proved chaotic, and seen hundreds of defendants held in purpose-built pens, where they can neither see nor hear the proceedings, nor talk to the judge or their lawyers.
Ibrahim has reported being regularly tortured, and forced to witness others being abused. In a letter published by his family last week, he said that he shares a dormitory cell with 30 other prisoners, and has a sleeping space just over one foot wide.
The Irish government and the European Parliament have both called for Ibrahim’s release, while the UK government has told Reprieve – which is assisting Ibrahim – that it is ‘monitoring’ the case.
The revelations follow concerns last week about NI-CO’s work in Bahrain, which is paid for by the UK Foreign Office, where the company has trained around 400 guards from the gulf kingdom’s death row prison.
Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:
“Amid a wave of repression in Egypt that has seen thousands sentenced to death, it is sickening that a UK body is helping to prop up Sisi’s courts – with funds from the European taxpayer. While NI-CO furnishes Egyptian courts and ‘interview rooms’ with steel bars and benches, scores of prisoners – including children, protestors, and journalists – are caught up in Kafkaesque mass trials. Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa, who was arrested as a child, is one of those trapped in this nightmare – like hundreds of others, he faces regular torture and the threat of execution. NI-CO must put an urgent stop to this project until Egypt commits to a justice system worthy of the name – this means releasing the many prisoners, like Ibrahim, who have been wrongly detained since 2014.”
This report prepared by Reprieve.