June 21, 2017 / 4:18 PM / in a month

Rights groups urge Egypt's Sisi to spare six men on death row

CAIRO (Reuters) - Human rights groups urged Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to intervene by a Thursday deadline to commute the death sentences of six men convicted of killing a policeman, saying they had been kidnapped and tortured into confessing the crime.

The six have been convicted of murdering Sergeant Abdallah al-Motweli, who guarded the house of a judge who helped to sentence Egypt's former president Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood to 20 years in prison.

Sisi, who in 2013 headed the military that ousted Mursi after mass protests against his rule, has until Thursday to commute the death sentence of the six. Their sentence can no longer be appealed after Egypt's top court this month upheld their conviction.

"The most important recommendation is protecting the six young men's right to life, which only the president can currently do through commuting the sentences," the Geneva-based Committee for Justice (CFJ) said on Wednesday.

In a detailed 30-page report based on a review of court records and interviews with their families and lawyers, the CFJ highlighted what it said were several violations faced by the defendants, who have come to be known as the "Mansoura Six", a reference to the Nile Delta city where they were tried.

The report focused on several violations: the defendants were forcibly disappeared, not legally arrested, and were tortured into confessing. Their confessions were taped and aired by the police before prosecutors questioned them, the report also said, in violation of Egypt's penal code.

Egyptian authorities do not comment on cases after a court has issued a verdict. The Interior Ministry denies all allegations of abuse.

The Mansoura Six were kept in illegal detention centres, denied access to lawyers, and were kept in inhumane conditions, CFJ's report also said. Court records seen by Reuters show the judge based his verdict on police investigations that cite "secret" sources which officers refused to reveal in court.

Amnesty International also urged Sisi to intervene to prevent the execution of the six men.

"The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. No one should be deprived of their right to life, no matter how horrific the crimes they have been accused of are," said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty's North Africa Campaigns Director.

"Time is running out to save these men's lives, they can be executed at any time. The Egyptian authorities must immediately halt these executions."

Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Gareth Jones

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