Rights group adds to criticism of Egypt's draft protest law

Ahram Online, Wednesday 16 Oct 2013

Draft protest law is reminiscent of policies implemented by Hosni Mubarak and Habib El-Adly, says Egyptian rights group

Egyptian demonstrators
Egyptian demonstrators raise their hands up and chant slogans during a protest at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Sept. 30, 2011 (Photo: AP)

An Egyptian human rights group has said the country does not need more laws restricting rights and freedoms, with a number of political forces echoing similar sentiments. 

The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said the draft protest law was reminiscent of "the security grip imposed under [Hosni] Mubarak and [former interior minister] Habib El-Adly that failed to prevent a popular revolution against them."

The controversial protest law is being reviewed by interim President Adly Mansour after it was approved by the cabinet. Among its most controversial measures is the right given to the interior minister or senior police officials to cancel, postpone or change the location of a protest. 

The law also entitles governors to designate "protest-free" areas near state buildings, including presidential palaces.

Gamal Eid, executive director of ANHRI, said it was unfortunate that "the same authoritarian approach continues when dealing with rights and freedoms in Egypt."

"Resorting to security and police solutions will lead to more failure and worsen the political conflict in Egypt," Eid added.

He accused the authorities of trying to gain public approval for the law by claiming it would only be used against "a certain group," referring to Mohamed Morsi supporters, who have been protesting since the Islamist president was ousted in July.

The most controversial articles of the law are articles 6, 10 and 14.

Article 6 states that a written appeal should be handed to the local police station 24 hours before any scheduled protest. The appeal must include its location and purpose, the name of its organisers and how to reach them, as well as its demands and the proposed start and end time.

Article 10 gives the interior minister or senior police officials the authority to cancel, postpone or change the location of a protest, although protesters can seek emergency judicial intervention against such decisions.

During Morsi's year in power, neither the interior minister nor senior police officials were able to issue a direct order to cancel a protest. Such a demand had to be issued by the judiciary.

Article 14 states that governors have the power to designate "protest-free" areas of 50 to 100 metres around state and governmental premises, including presidential palaces, headquarters of legislative authorities and the cabinet.

The draft law also stipulates a punishment of imprisonment and a fine of between LE100,000 and LE300,000 for those who pay or receive money for participation in protests, and who organise protests without prior disclosure at the local police station.

Younes Makhioun, head of Egypt's largest Salafist party, has called on President Mansour not to issue the law without first conducting a national dialogue, or at least discussing it with political forces. He also said it would be better to wait for the next parliament to adopt such a law.

The ultraconservative Islamist group Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and its political wing the Building and Development Party have also criticised the draft law, saying it would be used to crackdown on any kind of political opposition.

The group is one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s strongest allies and has been taking part in protests calling for Morsi’s reinstatement.

Egypt's Youth Revolutionary Block said the draft law would enable the return of the police state and ignored the January 25 Revolution’s demand for freedom.

The group's general coordinator, Safwat Omran, said the current government wanted to enforce security by restricting freedom, a tactic that was common under Hosni Mubarak's government.

April 6 Youth Movement (Democratic Front) also denounced the draft law for restricting freedom of assembly, saying in a Monday statement that it refused to "go back to the era of rulers issuing laws to silence their opponents."

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