Human Rights Watch says new Egyptian law gives police power to ‘ban all protests’

Ahram Online, Wednesday 30 Oct 2013

Rights organisation says the controversial draft law, which may be amended, is restrictive

Sarah Leah Whitson
Middle East director at HRW Sarah Leah Whitson (Photo: Reuters)

Human Rights Watch has criticised a draft Egyptian protest law, saying it falls short of the obligation to respect freedom of assembly under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“This draft law would effectively mandate the police to ban all protests outright and to use force to disperse ongoing protests,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at the US-based NGO.

"The bill would ban all demonstrations near official buildings, give the police absolute discretion to ban any other protest, and allow officers to forcibly disperse overall peaceful protests if even a single protester throws a stone," said a Wednesday statement by the group. 

The draft law has ignited public debate, with critics arguing that it infringes on Egyptian citizens' basic rights and freedoms.

The rights group says the draft law has "overly broad restrictions on legitimate assembly" saying it goes beyond permissible restrictions on public assembly under international law. It cites the ICCPR stating that "restrictions must not impair the essence of the right." 

It also says that the law has "vague language as basis for dispersal", excessive notification requirements, and allows discrimination against women who cover their faces.  

Prepared by the Ministry of Justice, the draft law is comprised of 21 articles, the most controversial of which are Articles 6, 10 and 14.

Article 6 states that a written appeal should be handed to the local police station 24 hours before any scheduled protest. The appeal must include the protest’s location and purpose, the name of its organisers and how to reach them, as well as its demands and the proposed start and end time.

Article 10 gives the interior minister or senior police officials the authority to cancel, postpone or change the location of a protest, although protesters can seek emergency judicial intervention against such decisions.

Article 14 states that provincial governors have the power to designate "protest-free" areas of 50 to 100 metres around state and governmental premises, including presidential palaces, headquarters of legislative authorities and the cabinet.

Responding to growing criticism, Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi said last week that the draft law could be amended after dialogue with political groups and parties, before interim President Adly Mansour officially approves it. 

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