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Egypt's parliament discards 'television channels and social media accounts' from terrorist entities law

The step follows complaints by MPs that naming television channels in their entirety could be used to portray Egypt as a violator of freedom of speech

Gamal Essam El-Din , Monday 10 Feb 2020
A file photo of Egypt
A file photo of Egypt's Parliament (Photo: Reuters)
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Egypt's House of Representatives approved on Monday new amendments to Law 8/2015 on terrorist entities.

MPs, led by Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal and Chairman of the Human Rights Committee Alaa Abed, approved removing the words “television channels, radio stations and social media accounts” from the new amendments to the law.

Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, head of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee which proposed the concerned amendment, also approved the removal.

Abu Shoka argued that “the inclusion of television channels and social media accounts was introduced by the committee on with the stipulation they are involved in inciting violence and promoting terrorist activities. But as the inclusion of such media outlets such as television channels, radio stations, and social media accounts could stir up a lot of problems for Egypt in the international media and human rights circles, I approve that these two media outlets be removed from the new amendments to the law,” said Abu Shoka.

Abdel-Aal said the final text of amended Article 1 will be: “Associations, organisations, groups and institutions which are established by individuals, companies, institutions, gangs and cells or others regardless of their legal or real form will be designated as terrorist as long as they are involved in any way – in Egypt or abroad – in harming citizens, spreading terrorism, and endangering their lives, freedoms, rights and security.”

He added that the removal of media outlets, particularly television channels, from the amendments is a win for freedom of speech in Egypt. “This is a very sensitive issue as the inclusion of media outlets goes in violation of international standards in this respect and could be exploited by some hostile circles to tarnish the image of Egypt regarding freedom of speech.”

Abed said “the inclusion of television channels could be used by some hostile international circles to portray Egypt as a violator of freedom of speech and human rights. Therefore, it is recommended that media outlets be removed from the amendment.”

Abdel-Aal and Abed, however, indicated that “the inclusion of the word “companies” in the new amendments means that this could also entail television channels and radio stations which incite violence and promote terrorism. “We know that the majority of television channels and radio stations are set up in the form of companies and so if these are involved in any terrorist activity they could be listed as terrorist entities,” said Abed.

Abu Shoka said “the new amendments to the terrorist entities law aim to take a preventive measure targeting the funding of terrorist activities and closing in on terrorist organisations.”

Abu Shoka said “the amendments also aim to go in line with international conventions and new developments in terrorist crimes in the last four years. The new forms of terrorist crimes are those promoted by media outlets, particularly social media. This is the fourth generation war,” said Abu Shoka, adding that “the new amendments are also in line with Article 185 of the constitution which obligates the government to invoke all measures necessary to fight terrorist crimes.”

Abdel-Aal said the amendments are a preventive measure against terrorist crimes. “This law covers the period ahead of convicting an individual or an entity of being a terrorist. If convicted, this individual or entity will be designated by the court as a terrorist,” said Abdel-Aal.

The discussion also led to changing the government-drafted amendment of Article 7 of the law. The final draft will be: “The membership of individuals designated as terrorist in professional syndicates and boards of public sector companies, sporting clubs and union will be suspended (not “lost” as originally drafted).”

MPs decided to keep the other amendments of Article 7. These state that “assets owned directly or indirectly by a terrorist entity will be confiscated. These assets include all forms of property, documents, legal tools, national or foreign currency, financial and commercial securities, tourist cheques, documentary credit, and all returns and profits generated by these and other assets.”

The amended Article 7 shall also state that individuals publicly declared terrorist will be banned from exercising any activity, including collecting money, holding meetings or maintaining offices. “All forms of terrorism promotion — such as raising terrorist slogans — will be criminalised,” states the draft law.

The amendment also states that individuals listed as terrorists will be stripped of their passports and barred from assuming public posts or joining parliament.

MPs, also led by Abed, decided to change Article 6 to give individuals who appeal against a verdict designating them as terrorists the right to use some of their frozen money and assets to meet their living needs such as buying food supplies, housing rents, drugs and medical treatment and other expenses. “This is to observe the human rights of these individuals,” said Abed.

MPs also decided to add a new paragraph to Article 9, stating that the most essential information on individuals or entities designated as terrorist could be made available to other countries as part of international cooperation.

Parliament also approved in principle a new batch of amendments to the 94/2015 anti-terrorism law that will focus on clamping down on sources of funding for terrorist crimes, and toughening penalties to include execution.
Abdel-Aal said "while we voiced some concerns about the terrorist entities law, we think the amendments of the anti-terrorism law are perfect and represent a necessary tool in clamping down on terrorist crimes."

Article 3 of the law will be amended to widen the scope of the definition of sources for funding terrorist acts.

"The crime of 'funding terrorism' shall take any of the following forms: collecting, obtaining, acquiring, supplying, transferring, and providing money or weapons, ammunition, explosives, equipment, statements, information, or material or others – directly or indirectly – and using any means, including digital or electronic forms, to be used in carrying out terrorist crimes or in providing a safe haven for one terrorist or more."

The amendment will add a new paragraph to the above-mentioned definition to state that sources of funding terrorism shall also include providing a place for training one terrorist or more, giving them weapons or documents in any way or form, as well as offering support and financing in order to help terrorists travel, even if the provider does not have a direct link to the terrorist crime.

Abu Shoka said Article 13 concerning penalties of crimes of funding terrorism will be amended.

"The scope of penalties will be expanded to be imposed on such crimes as helping individuals to travel from their native country to plan, prepare, participate or assist or carry out a terrorist activity in another country," Abu Shoka said.

"Individuals or entities involved in funding any of the above-mentioned forms of terrorist activities shall be sentenced to life in prison, and individuals involved in funding an organisation designated as terrorist or helping it to carry out a terrorist act shall face the death penalty, and they will also be required to pay a fine ranging from EGP 100,000 to EGP 3 million.”

Parliament Speaker Abdel-Aal decided to refer the amendments of the laws on terrorist entities and anti-terrorism to the State ouncil to be revised for constitutional and legal terms before voting on them.

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