File photo: Protesters march through downtown Cairo on Thursday 10 April, 2014 to demand cancellation of protest law (Photo: Al-Ahram)
Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court said on Saturday that Article 10 of the controversial protest law, which permits the country’s interior minister to bar scheduled protests, is “unconstitutional.”
The court said that those looking to organise street protests are merely obliged to notify authorities beforehand and present all needed documents as required by law, and are not required to obtain prior approval.
The court argued that Article 10's provisions granting the interior ministry the authority to deny citizens the right to protest is unconstitutional, saying that authorities have no right to prohibit protests once all documents have been submitted.
However, the court rejected challenges against articles 7, 8 and 19 of the protest law.
Article 7 defines what contstitutes obstruction of traffic and and threats to "citizens’ interests" in relation to protests, while Article 8 outlines police notification procedures. Article 19 stipulates that violators of the law are to receive a minimum two years in prison and a fine of EGP 50,000.
The court reasoned that the three articles are in line with the constitution, which gives legislative branch the right to issue laws regulating meetings, parades and protests with prior notifications.
The verdict comes in response to two lawsuits challenging the legislation filed by a number of prominent rights lawyers, including Khaled Ali, Ali Ayoub, Tarek El-Awadi, and Tarek Negeida.
Negeida told Ahram Online that Saturday's ruling will not result in the release of protestors imprisoned for defying the protest law.
The court said that if authorities see the need to prevent a protest from taking place, they are to raise the issue with the judiciary, which will then decide if there are “interests, rights and freedoms” that should be put before the right to protest.
The protest law, issued in late 2013, has led to the imprisonment of thousands of youth activists, as well as secular and Islamist protesters. It has been widely criticised by local and international rights groups.
Rights lawyer El-Awadi told Ahram Online that although the court's verdict is final, the court can still hear other suits challenging other articles of the protest law.
El-Awadi added that although the verdict is disappointing for the families of those detained under the protest law, it is still a partial victory as it curtails the interior ministry's power to block protests.
"There are other ways to push for amending this law, [such as] through political initiatives," El-Awadi said.