Egypt’s controversial protest law to be amended within days

Dina Samak , Wednesday 17 Sep 2014

Cabinet expected to approve amendments to protest law at a meeting on Thursday; activists hopeful law changes could lead to retrials of political prisoners

Egyptian policemen use a water canon to disperse protesters
Egyptian policemen use a water canon to disperse protesters during an unauthorised demonstration against military trials for civilians on November 26, 2013. (Photo : Al-Ahram)

Egypt’s protest law is expected to be amended within the coming few days after the government reviews changes suggested by both the National Council for Human Rights and the Ministry of Transitional Justice, a source close to the government has told Ahram Online.

Earlier this week, Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, the vice head of the National Council for Human Rights, told the media that the government “seemed understanding to all the comments made by the council about the law and will consider them seriously.”

Other members of the council also confirmed that the law would be amended “soon.”

Kamal Abbas, labour activist and member of the NCHR, told Ahram Online that the draft of the amended law had already been presented to the cabinet, which is expected to discuss it at Thursday’s meeting in the presence of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab.

“After the meeting we expect the government to announce the amendments they approve of and they will be sent to the State Council for legal approval, before being referred to the president, who will issue the law,” Abbas added.

Abbas hopes that the changes required by the council, and after a wide social dialogue with different political parties, will be put into consideration. “All prison penalties in the law are expected to be cancelled and substituted with reasonable fines, but it is not clear yet if the government will abide by the recommendations of the NCHR concerning the notification [requirement].”

Controversial articles in the law, which was enacted by interim president Adly Mansour in November 2013, include requiring protest organisers to notify authorities three days in advance of a protest's aims and demands, and imposing heavy jail terms and fines on individuals who break the law.

“Even though the amendments to the law would not guarantee the release of thousands of people who were sent to prison for crimes related to the current law, it would at least open the door to the retrial of many of them and this is a good step towards their release,” Abbas added, explaining that many of those who were sentenced to jail after being arrested at protests are facing charges that are already present in the criminal law.

Meanwhile, a new political campaign against the law will be announced on Wednesday night with the participation of a number of political figures and groups who have been campaigning against the law for months and recently announced their solidarity with prisoners who have been on hunger strike for weeks now. More than 240 people are now on hunger strike, inside and outside of prison.

Those participating at Wednesday’s conference include Freedom to the Brave, which demands the release of “all political prisoners,” the Constitution party, the Popular Current of ex-presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, among other post-25 January 2011 leftist parties.

“We will take all the procedures needed to push for the release of those detained for protesting or expressing their political opinion, even if we don’t share their stances,” political activist and member of Freedom to the Brave campaign Khaled Abdel-Hameed told Ahram Online, “and it takes more than amending one law or another. It takes political will.”

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