Terrorism Bills Further Stifle Peaceful Opposition in Egypt

Egypt, Freedom of Speech, Shrinking Space for Civil Society, Statement

Read in:  French  Arabic 

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) expresses its grave concern over two draft legislations that the Egyptian Cabinet has referred to the State Council Administrative Court for legal review. The first consists of amendments to provisions related to the crime of terrorism in the penal code while the second deals with the procedural aspects relating to combating terrorism. These laws are at the final stage and their adoption could take place shortly.

If Egypt’s history is of any indication, the adoption of more repressive legislations and security measures is not successful in deterring terrorist attacks, or even in identifying and punishing their perpetrators in most cases.

What Egypt needs are not more legislations to address terrorism, but serious revision to its legislative framework to ensure its conformity with international standards. The government has been using this framework to arrest and detain arbitrarily political dissidents and subject them to torture and ill treatment. This week’s ruling of a criminal court sentencing 529 people to death, possibly the largest mass death sentence in the world in recent years, testifies to the lack of basic due process protections and the urgent need for reform.

The legislative reforms in question are extremely worrying in the current context as they step up repression by criminalizing many peaceful and legitimate activities that fall within freedom of expression, association and assembly, lumping them  as ‘terrorism crimes’ punishable by the death penalty. Indeed, these measures are paving the way for an undeclared state of emergency and arbitrariness.

The bill broadens the definition of terrorist crimes to any kind of activity very vaguely defined as “severely undermining public order”, “subjecting the safety, interest, or security of society to danger”, “disrupting the authorities from carrying out some of their activities”, “subjecting the lives, rights, or freedoms of citizens to danger”, “preventing educational institutions from carrying out their work”, and “[carrying out] acts which seek to hinder the implementation of the constitution or the law.” For example, a strike  hindering access to  university or any state institution, or demonstrating against a law or constitutional provision deemed unfair (for example, against the constitutional provision allowing for civilians to be tried before military courts) would  fall within the definition of terrorism crimes, making  participants liable to face capital punishment.

Our organization strongly condemns these legislative reforms as a further step to stifle all kinds of peaceful dissent and political opposition in Egypt. It steers the country away from the path of democratic transition and rule of law, and further deepens social unrest and fuels extremism and terrorism.

We call upon the Egyptian authorities to:

Immediately withdraw the two bills and reform the repressive legislative framework, particularly the protest law adopted on 24 November 2013.

We also call upon the European Union and the Member States to:

Urge their Egyptian counterpart to withdraw these bills; enact the ‘more for more’ approach highlighted in the renewed European Neighborhood Policy, and condition any further financial and political support to Egypt on the respect of fundamental rights and freedoms, the implementation of independent and impartial investigation into all instances of killings and use of excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrary arrests and allegation of torture of prisoners, and  effective reforms of the legal framework impacting rights and freedom and the reform of the security apparatus.

Finally, we call upon the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special procedures, and in particular, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while combating Terrorism to:

Urgently send a communication to the Egyptian government expressing their concern over these draft laws; and offer expertise and support to the Egyptian government in combating terrorism while respecting human rights. These draft laws go in the opposite direction of the recommendations provided by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism after his official visit to Egypt on 2009.

Most worrying provisions contained in the two draft laws:

Acts undermining “national unity” can be considered as terrorist acts; as such, according to a nonrestrictive interpretation of the bill, an NGO working on religious minorities rights, could be closed down and its member prosecuted and liable to death penalty under the pretext that this organization undermines “national unity”, a commonly used term to describe the work of these NGOs in Egypt (Art. 86).

Moreover, according to the bill, any organization that contests the law or the constitution is a terrorist organization (art. 87)

The actual commission of a serious crime is not taken into account, as the mere participation or contribution in founding a terrorist organization (which in this case could be a movement carrying out the aforementioned legitimate and peaceful activities) is punishable by the death penalty (Art. 89).

The other draft law, which consists of procedural aspects related to combating terrorism, expands in the Executive’s powers. It gives the President the right to enforce exceptional security measures without a prior approval of the parliament. It also gives the President the right to enforce special procedures only by oral orders which are to be later supported by written documents within 8 days (Art. 15).

The bill gives the right to the prosecutor to reveal the details of bank accounts of individuals and organizations without a court order (Art. 13)

Finally and most worryingly, the bill enables security forces to detain individuals without an arrest warrant, and does not oblige the security apparatus to reveal the reasons for the detention immediately. While the law states that everyone has the right to appear before the prosecutor within 48 hours of the arrests, failure to impose a legal obligation on the police to declare the arrest on time could lead in some cases to prolonged arbitrary detentions (Articles 1 and 2).

Read also: