Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Egypt: Military Court Sentences Toddler to Life Imprisonment by Mistake

(Mar. 2, 2016) In February 2016, the West Cairo Military Court in Egypt found Ahmed Mansour Qorani, who is just three years of age, guilty of the felonies of murder, carrying guns and firebombs, blocking a road with burning tires, and trying to damage government buildings. Accordingly, the court sentenced him to life imprisonment. (Nour Youssef, Egyptian Military Court Calls Toddler’s Life Sentence for Murder a Mistake, NEW YORK TIMES (Feb. 23, 2016).)

According to news reports, the child was convicted along with 115 other individuals allegedly involved in a violent January 2014 protest in support of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. Qorani was 16 months old at the time the crimes were allegedly committed. (Jesselyn Cook, Egypt Is Sorry It Sentenced a Little Boy to Life in Prison, HUFFINGTON POST (Feb 23, 2016).)

The child was convicted based on a police investigation, following the issuance in early 2014 of an arrest warrant for him. That warrant was justified by an investigation conducted by the national security apparatus. When members of law enforcement were able to locate his house and stormed it to arrest him, they realized that he was a toddler. Instead of detaining him, they arrested his father and put the father in custody. His father was detained for four months before he was released. (Id.)

A defense attorney in the case, Izzat Ghonaim, argued in an interview published in a blog post that the military court prepared the judgment against the child without reviewing the birth certificate of the child, which was submitted to the court before it rendered its decision.  He stated that the court also included the name of a dead person, who was number 61 on the list of the accused individuals, without verifying the accuracy of the investigation conducted by members of the national security apparatus.  Ghonaim claims that the court provided its judgment, and issued sentences of life imprisonment against all individuals in the accused list, without hearing their defense.  He provided the full indictment in the case (Case No. 58 of 2015) as well as the birth certificate of the convicted toddler to the blog.  (Documents Reveal Important Details Concerning the Case of a Child Sentenced to Life, FREEDOM AND JUSTICE GATE (Feb. 18, 2016).)

Review of the Decision

Due to a media campaign in Egypt advocating the repeal of the life imprisonment sentence, the military court decided to review the case. After considering the case a second time, the court decided that it had convicted the child wrongfully because of the similarity of his name to that of another suspect. In an official statement, a spokesperson for the military said that it was a case of mistaken identity and that the authorities had actually meant to try a 16-year-old student with the same name. (Sarah El Sirgany, Egypt: Officials Claim Mistaken Identity After Toddler Sentenced to Life (Feb. 23, 2016), CNN.) In contrast to the official statement of the military, the spokesman for the Ministry of Security, Abu Bakr Abdel-Karim, said in a television interview that the suspect whose name was confused with that of the toddler is the toddler’s uncle, a 51-year-old man. (Id.)

Military Courts

Military courts in Egypt have jurisdiction over civilians in some circumstances. The Egyptian Constitution of 2014, under article 204, grants the right to try civilians to the military courts. It states, “[n]o civilian shall be tried before the Military Court, except for crimes that constitute a direct assault against military facilities.” (Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt (2014), State Information Service website (unofficial translation).)