Around 700 Egyptian writers and academics have signed an open statement demanding the abrogation of a law that heavily restricts street protests and that has led to the jailing of hundreds, including pro-democracy activists who were at the forefront of the 2011 uprising.
The move was first announced 10 days ago, to reject the protest law and the "societal violence" it has caused, as well as demanding the release of those detained for what authorities deem illegal demonstrations.
"The law in effect has caused greater fallout than any expected benefit … and ignites societal violence and creates hostility between the state and the people," reads the open statement.
By early Sunday, some 700 academics and intellectuals had signed the statement, Reuters reported.
A final form with all signatures will be made available shortly, sponsors said.
Since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last summer, authorities have mounted a sustained crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood group and other Islamist sympathisers, with hundreds dead and thousands jailed.
Dozens of secular dissidents, including leading figures of the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak, have also been jailed for breaching the protest law.
"The law violates international charters and conventions Egypt is bound by and contravenes the constitution, which enshrines the absolute right to protest upon notification," adds the statement.
The controversial protest law, condemned by Western powers and rights watchdogs for hindering freedoms, requires protesters to secure police sanction for protests at least three days in advance, and imposes jail terms and hefty fines on violators.
“The protest law allows the Egyptian authorities to ban demonstrations at their discretion and gives security forces a free rein to use force, including firearms, against peaceful protesters — a blatant violation of international law. It sends a clear message that there is no space in Egypt today for activism that is not directly sanctioned by the state,” said London-based Amnesty International last week on the jailing of a female human rights lawyer for violating the law.
Last month, 25 people, including Alaa Abdel Fattah, a prominent activist of the pro-democracy movement behind the 18-day January 2011 revolt, were sentenced to 15 years in prison for illegally protesting, among other charges.
Signatories to the open statement include former Minister of Culture Alaa Abdel Hady, prominent poet Zein Al-Abedein Fouad, screenwriter Belal Fadl, writer Ahdaf Soueif, along with Sinai-based activist and writer Mosaad Abu Al-Fagr and Nubian writer Hagag Adol — both of whom were members of the committee that drafted the country's new constitution, passed by referendum in January.