Parliament has passed amendments to laws that tackle the ongoing fight against terrorism.
On Monday, amendments to Law 8/2015 on terrorist entities and Law 94/2015 on anti-terrorism were passed.
Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, head of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said the amendments were necessary so that the laws remain in line with international anti-terrorism agreements and conventions to which Egypt is a signatory.
“These include the 2001 international agreement on combating terrorism and drying up its sources of funding, and the seventh chapter of the UN charter on anti-terrorism,” Abu Shoka said, adding that “the amendments are also in line with Article 158 of Egypt’s 2014 constitution which obligates the state to invoke all measures necessary to protect citizens from terrorist crimes.”
Abu Shoka explained that developments in terrorist crimes over the last five years necessitated the amendments. “We see that satellite television channels and social media accounts have become increasingly involved in inciting violence and promoting terrorist crimes. As a result, the new amendments close in on these new forms of terrorist entities and target their sources of funding.”
MP Mohamed Al-Ghoul said the amendments will help the Interior Ministry take preventive measures that could foil terrorist activities.
“The amendments send a message of support to the state in its war on terrorism, particularly as some regional powers like Turkey are now trying to stir up trouble in some Arab countries important to Egypt’s national security like Libya,” added MP Saad Al-Gammal.
Kamal Amer, head of parliament’s National Security and Defence Committee, said the amendments come at the right time, just two days after a terrorist group attacked a security checkpoint in North Sinai, killing seven policemen. “Security forces were able to kill 10 of the terrorists, but at the end, the incident shows that we are still in need of much tougher measures to eliminate these crimes,” Amer said.
Head of parliament’s Human Rights Committee Alaa Abed, however, warned that some amendments could be in violation of the constitution and pose a threat to human rights and freedom of speech. Abed argued that the decision of parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee to change the government’s draft to place television channels, radio stations and social media accounts on the list of entities that might be labelled as terrorist is not a good step. “This could be used by some hostile foreign circles to portray Egypt as a violator of freedom of speech and human rights. Therefore, it is recommended that such media outlets be removed from the amendment,” Abed said.
Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal joined forces, arguing that the inclusion of “television channels” could violate the constitution which guarantees respect for freedom of speech. “Some might use this amendment to say that it is intended to silence criticism raised by such media outlets as television channels and so I also recommend that we discard this,” said Abdel-Aal.
He, however, agreed that the amendments are a preventive measure against terrorist crimes.
In response, Abu Shoka defended that the inclusion of television channels and social media accounts was introduced by the committee only with the stipulation that they are involved in inciting violence and promoting terrorist activities. “But since such inclusion might stir up a lot of needless problems for Egypt in the international media and human rights circles, I approve that the words ‘television channels, radio stations and social media’ accounts be removed from the proposed amendments to the law,” Abu Shoka said.
Abdel-Aal said the final text of amended Article 1 of the Law on Regulating the Lists of Terrorist Entities will be “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 as long as they are involved in any way — in Egypt or abroad – in harming citizens, spreading terrorism, and endangering their lives, freedoms, rights and security.”
He added that the removal of media outlets, particularly television channels, from the amendments is a victory for freedom of speech in Egypt. “This is a very sensitive issue as the inclusion of such media outlets is in violation of international standards in this respect and could be exploited by some hostile circles to tarnish the image of Egypt regarding freedom of speech.”
Abdel-Aal and Abed, however, indicated that “the inclusion of the word ‘companies’ means that the amendments could also entail television channels and radio stations which incite violence and promote terrorism. We know that the majority of television channels and radio stations are set up in the form of companies and so if these are involved in any terrorist activity they could be listed as terrorist entities,” Abed said.
The discussion also led to changing the government-drafted amendment of Article 7 of the law. The final draft will be: “The membership of individuals designated as terrorist in professional syndicates and boards of public sector companies, sporting clubs and unions will be suspended.” The original draft had “lost”.
Article 7 also states that “assets owned directly or indirectly by a terrorist entity will be confiscated, and that these assets shall include all forms of property, documents, legal tools, national or foreign currency, financial or commercial securities, tourist cheques, documented credit, and all returns and profits generated by these and other assets.”
The amendment also states that individuals or entities publicly declared as terrorist will be banned from exercising any activity, including collecting money, holding meetings or maintaining office, and that all forms of terrorism promotion — such as voicing terrorist slogans — will be criminalised.”
The amendment also states that individuals listed as terrorists will be stripped of their passports and barred from assuming public posts or joining parliament.
MPs, also led by Abed, decided to change Article 6 to give individuals who appeal against a verdict designating them as terrorists the right to use some of their frozen money and assets to meet their living needs such as paying rent, and buying drugs and medical treatment and other expenses.
“This is to observe the human rights of these individuals,” Abed said.
MPs also approved adding a new paragraph to Article 9, stating that the most essential information on individuals or entities designated as terrorist could be made available to other countries as part of international cooperation.
Parliament also approved in principle a new batch of amendments to the 94/2015 anti-terrorism law that will focus on clamping down on sources of funding for terrorist crimes, and toughening penalties to include the death penalty.
Abdel-Aal said “while we voiced some concerns about the terrorist entities law, we think the amendments of the anti-terrorism law are professionally drafted and represent a necessary tool in clamping down on terrorist crimes.”
Article 3 of the law is amended to widen the scope of the definition of sources of funding terrorist acts.
It states that “the crime of ‘funding terrorism’ shall 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.”
The amendment will add a new paragraph to the state’s definition that sources of funding terrorism shall also include providing a place for training one terrorist or more, giving them weapons or documents in any way or form, as well as offering support and financing in order to help terrorists travel, even if the provider does not have a direct link to the terrorist crime.
Abu Shoka said Article 13 concerning penalties for funding terrorism will be amended.
“The scope of penalties will be expanded to be imposed on crimes including helping individuals to travel from their native country to plan, prepare, participate, assist or carry out a terrorist activity in another country,” Abu Shoka said.
“Individuals or entities involved in funding any forms of terrorist activities shall be sentenced to life in prison, and individuals involved in funding an organisation designated as terrorist or helping it to carry out a terrorist act shall face the death penalty. They will also be required to pay a fine ranging from LE100,000 to LE3 million.”
Speaker Abdel-Aal decided to refer the amendments of the laws on terrorist entities and anti-terrorism to the State Council to be revised for constitutional and legal terms before voting on them.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.