CAIRO: The newly adopted controversial protest law will not be applied to those who were arrested while protesting against the former regimes prior to the June 30 mass protests, which toppled former President Mohamed Morsi, according to legal experts.
Since the passing of the law, concerns have surfaced regarding those who were arrested in a protest before the new law was adopted, questioning whether they will be tried according to the protest law or the law preceding it (assembly law).
“A penal code cannot be put into force retroactively,” lawyer Walid al-Leithy told The Cairo Post.
Any new law cannot be applied retroactively, and defendants must be tried according to the law present at the date of the incident, Ali Atef, a lawyer at the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), told The Cairo Post. He further noted that the new law can only be applied if it is more beneficial to the suspect.
In the cases of political activist Ahmed Doma, media figures expressed their concerns after he was arrested on charges of “orchestrating illegal protests and assaulting police officers” in November 2013 in front of Abdeen Misdemeanors Court.
He has also previously been accused assembling illegally, possessing light weapons and Molotov cocktails, assaulting members of Armed Forces and the police, burning the Scientific Council, vandalizing government buildings and attempting to break into the Ministry of Interior during the 2011 Cabinet incidents.
“Doma was not accused of illegally protesting during the 2011 Cabinet events. There is legal confusion about this in the media, where some people reported that he has,” Atef continued.
Prior to the adoption of the protest law, there had been another law in the Penal Code that prevents the assembling of people if they affect public security.
“No one could be accused of protesting in the first place prior to adopting the protest law, unless there had been other charges,” Leithy said.
If someone was arrested before the protest law has, he is charged according to the assembling law, which has been replaced by the new protest law, Leithy added.
There is a difference between the penalties of both the protest law, which was approved in November 2013, and the assembly law preceding it.
The protest law sparked anger among political activists and parties, who considered it a means to restrict the freedom of expression. Many parties, including the April 6 Youth Movement, have held several protests against the law.
On April 28, Abdeen Court for Urgent Matters banned the activities of the movement for “spreading chaos and threatening national security in favor of foreign entities,” and “undermining economy and tourism in Egypt.”
Yet, Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi stated in his 14 minutes pre-recorded speech, aired on State television on Saturday, that if he is elected as president he will annul the controversial protest law,
“I will put an end to the unfair protest law and I will re-issue a law that regulates, rather than bans peaceful protesting and gathering,” said Sabbahi.
Those arrested at public gatherings may, under Article 19 of the law, receive a prison sentence of two to five years and a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 EGP (U.S. $7,250-14,500).
If arrested in possession of a weapon, flares or ammunition, or Molotov, the defendant is imprisoned for no less than seven years, with a 100,000 to 300,000 EGP fine, under articles 17 and 19, Atef said.
According to the previous assembly law, if there is a gathering of more than 5 persons that affects the public security, defendants receive no more than six months in prison, and a fine of no more than 20 EGP, he continued.
If in possession of a weapon, the defendant receives no more than 2 years in prison and a fine of no more than 50 EGP. However the maximum rate of the penalty may be raised depending on the judge, if the defendant is seen to have affected a governmental body or assaulted someone, Atef added.
“If there is one advantage in the protest law, although there are not many, it is that anyone who organizes a peaceful protest without informing the authorities may pay the fine only,” he said.