Rights group: New police powers law recreates Mubarak-era emergency regime
Draft bill being debated by the Egyptian cabinet is reminiscent of old Mubarak-era emergency law in terms of the powers it gives to the police, say critics
Sherif Tarek, Tuesday 18 Sep 2012
Protesters rally against the dissolving of parliament, faceoff with policemen standing guard at the parliament building in Cairo June 19, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)
A controversial draft bill, named the 'protecting society from dangerous people' bill, replicates the worst features of the widely-misused and now defunct emergency law, according to a statement issued by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR).
The bill, which was prepared by the interior and justice ministries and introduced by the incumbent cabinet led by premier Hisham Qandil, is yet to be approved by President Mohamed Morsi.
Morsi currently holds legislative authority following his constitutional declaration disenfranchising the supreme military council. The military council had held legislative authority since the dissolution of the People's Assembly in June following a court order stipulating that last winter's parliamentary elections were unconstitutional.
Like the old emergency law, which gave the police the right to arrest civilians without evidence and without charges, the 'protecting society from dangerous people' bill would give the interior ministry the right to put suspects under house arrest for up to 30 days. It would also enable the ministry to put suspects under surveillance or to order them to carry out community service, for an indefinite period of time.
Apart from acts of thuggery and terrorism, the law also includes many other crimes such as bribery, weapon trading, drug dealing, money laundry, currency forfeiting and prostitution.
"We consider this a hidden emergency law," reads the EOHR statement, which was issued after over a dozen NGOs had voiced displeasure with bill.
"It violates the rights and freedoms that are the basis of the January 25 Revolution, thanks to the powerful authorities granted to police personnel."
One of the factors that lead to the 2011 uprising which toppled former president Hosni Mubarak was public anger towards police brutality. Recurrent malpractices were carried out at police stations and by now-dismantled sections of the state security apparatus, who invoked the emergency law to arrest civilians, particularly opposition figure and political activists.
According to the head of EOHR Hafez Seda, the new bill does not specify the basis on which the police may invoke the law, giving them similar powers to those they held under Mubarak.
The law could also prevent forms of protesting and striking, even the peaceful ones, because the law, Seda says, does not provide an explicit description of a crime. "There is absolutely no justification for passing such a draft law," he commented.
Lawyer Ahmed Fawzi stressed that the new law is a "reproduction of failure," saying repressive legislation would not improve Egypt's security by any means, but would only backfire."This is similar to the emergency law and the thuggery law, which did too little to quash thuggish acts," he told Ahram Online.
"Any law enacted to criminalise strikes and protests will only add fuel to the fire; if people are hungry, they won't be thinking about laws and will only act in accordance with their needs," he added, referring to the recurrent labour strikes and protests.
"If authorities are serious about restoring law and order they need to meet the basic demands of the people, such as minimum wages. If the police think they will be working the way they used to under Mubarak, that will definitely not be a way to sort things out.
"But apparently the same old regime mentality is still lingering at the interior ministry; they still think that muzzling people is the only way to protect the sovereignty of the state, like what happened at Nile University. So I would say the ministry must be restructured, and policemen trained to know how to deal with people in a civilised way."
A recent violent police raid on a sit-in held by Nile University students stirred up controversy, with some protesters accusing the interior ministry of using Mubarak-era tactics.