A seven-page report prepared by the House of Representative’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights Committees on government-drafted amendments to four laws — on prison regulation (396/1956), drug trafficking (182/1960), terrorism (94/2015) and money laundering (94/2002) — recommended the changes which, among other things, ban the conditional release of defendants convicted of organising illegal public gatherings, carrying out terrorist acts, trafficking drugs and laundering money.
“The current law regulating prisons bans defendants convicted of drug trafficking crimes from early release. The proposed amendments extend the prohibition to those convicted of organising illegal public gatherings, carrying out terrorist acts and laundering money,” said the report.
Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said the amendments will now be sent to the State Council for review before returning to the house for a final vote.
“As stated by the law regulating prisons,” the report continued, “the term ‘conditional release’ applied to those who have already served half their custodial sentence, have exhibited good behaviour and are deemed no longer a threat once released.”
Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, head of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said members had approved the new amendments because they “fill a legislative loophole that has allowed some criminals to win judicial rulings in favour of their conditional release.
“The new amendments will no longer allow courts to issue rulings in favour of such criminals and at the same time will help protect society from serious crimes such as organising illegal public gatherings.”
Abdel-Aal expressed concern that the amendments threaten peaceful and random gatherings.
“People gather in reaction to car accidents, and peaceful political gatherings sometimes occur in public squares to protest a specific policy,” said Abdel-Aal.
“I want to ask the government what has led it to consider such peaceful gatherings a crime. I agree that drug trafficking and money laundering are corrosive crimes and those convicted should be barred from conditional release. But why tar peaceful or random gatherings with the same brush?”
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Alaaeddin Fouad said the right to gather peacefully is enshrined in the constitution but violations happen “when citizens do not have the prior permit legally required to organize such a gathering.”
On Monday MPs voted in favour of amendments to two laws aimed at fighting terrorism — the law on terrorist entities (8/2018) and the law on anti-terrorism (94/2015).
The two laws were approved in principle on 9 and 10 February but a final vote was postponed until they could be revised in legal and constitutional terms by the State Council.
The amendments to the two laws toughen sentences for those convicted of terrorist acts and aim to dry up sources of terrorist funding.
Amended Article 1 of the Terrorist Entities Law’s now states: “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 if they are involved in any way — in Egypt or abroad — in harming citizens, spreading terrorism and endangering lives, freedoms, rights and security.”
Changes to the Anti-Terrorism Law aim to clamp down on sources of funding and toughen penalties. Amended Article 3 of the law widens the definition of sources of funding. It now states: “The crime of funding terrorism can 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.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly