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New Egyptian protest law threatens right to protest: NGO

Independent Association for Legal Support says proposed law regulating protests puts stringent restraints on right to peaceful assembly

Ahram Online , Wednesday 27 Mar 2013
An anti-Morsi protester covers her mouth with an image and writes Arabic words on her forehead that read "Leave" in front of the Muslim Brotherhood's national headquarters in Cairo while a riot police conscript stands behind, (Photo: Reuters).

Egypt's proposed protest law contravenes international standards on the right to peaceful assembly, the Independent Association for Legal Support has said on Tuesday.

The controversial bill was passed 'in principle' on Tuesday by the Shura Council, Egypt's upper house of parliament, which currently has legislative powers.

The proposed law, which obligates demonstration organisers to give an official notice to the authorities about the time, route and demands of any protest three days in advance, puts stringent and unrealistic restrictions on protests, the newly-founded association said in a report.

"While many countries require similar notices, the best laws internationally state that such restrictions should not be complicated or exaggerated, as is the case in this bill," the association added.

The association criticised the stipulation in the proposed law that gives security forces the power to disperse any demonstration if it breaks any of the conditions previously agreed upon, such as the time, place, demands and estimated numbers taking part.

"The United Nations report [the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association] stressed that states shouldn't allow the forceful dispersal of a demonstration due to the breaching of the conditions stipulated in the notice … provided the demonstration remains peaceful," the association said.

The association also mentioned the difficulties involved in implementing the proposed law. The association criticised the article that states protests cannot be closer than 200 metres to state buildings, including government offices, ministry headquarters and prisons.

Many state buildings are scattered along regular protest routes and the law would therefore give the government the green light to block many protests, the association said. 

The association also criticised the failure to give priority to the protection of protesters, asserting that "the protection of property shouldn’t be equated with the protection of lives" and insisting that the law should be written with the interests of protesters in mind.

The association cited the UN report's stress on the "positive obligation" of the state to protect the right to peaceful assembly, adding that security forces should be compelled by law to preserve the safety of protesters from attempts to attack them or disperse the demonstration or transform it from being peaceful.

The association called for legislators to propose protest laws that take into account the nature of the revolutionary stage Egypt is undergoing and which refer to the international laws and treaties the country is party to.

In conclusion, the association said if the current law is passed it would either be unobserved like many other laws in Egypt or, if implemented, it would penalise many Egyptians for practicing their right to peaceful protest.

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