The Egyptian government has dismissed reports that a widely-criticised protest law will be amended, in remarks challenging contrary statements by a legislative ministry and a state-run rights body, and seen by rights advocates as “shocking.”
The protest law, passed late last year, bans demonstrations without police authorisation and gives security forces the right to bar any public gathering of more than ten people.
Dozens of people, including several prominent activists, have been charged and convicted under its provisions, heightening fears of a slip back into autocracy before the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time president Hosni Mubarak.
A cabinet spokesperson has stated that no discussions about the law or its provisions were held during the inter-ministerial meeting on Wednesday, and ruled out such a possibility in the near future.
"The law was subject to a broad national dialogue and thus it is still in place," cabinet spokesman Hossam El-Kawish said in television comments on Thursday.
"There are no signs the law will be reviewed for discussion or amendment as of yet," El-Kawish said a day earlier in comments to Al-Nahar Satellite TV channel, adding that "the government believes there is no necessity or room to review the law."
The spokesman's comments ran counter to statements made by the country's state-run human rights body.
According to a member of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights, Egypt's transitional justice ministry, newly-founded in 2013 to bolster human rights, has already drafted amendments proposed by the council following correspondence with the government .
Slamming the cabinet's apparent flip-flop as "very shocking," National Council of Human Rights member Nasser Amin said wide-ranging talks were conducted with the transitional justice ministry during which it confirmed that the redrafting of the legislation was finished.
Amin also called the decision a “political manipulation that we should not see after the revolution."
He said the council will sit early next week to reflect on necessary measures needed to push for an amendment of the law.
Among major modifications the council had proposed is allowing demonstrations by a mere notification rather than a police permit, and that fines, in lieu of jail terms, be imposed on violators.
Dozens of Egyptians both in and outside of prison have organised a hunger strike against the notorious law and for the release of those they say are being unfairly detained in a bid to curtail on freedoms won during the 2011 revolt.
Over 80 detainees are currently hunger-striking in jails, with several reported to be in critical health. Some 200 others outside prisons – including activists, journalists and families of the detainees – are organising a hunger strike in solidarity.
In a Wednesday news conference as part of the campaign against the disputed law, leading Egyptian activists, Alaa Abdel-Fattah and rights lawyer Khaled Ali, demanded the statute be rescinded, calling it "unconstitutional."
Abdel-Fattah, an icon of the 2011 revolt, was released on bail on Monday after almost a month-long strike following being sentenced to 15 years in prison for breaching the protest law.