CAIRO: Detention penalties under Egypt’s most debated law could soon be a thing of the past, as the Cabinet is scheduled to discuss amendments to the 2013 Protest Law on Thursday following the completion of new suggestions drafted by the legislative committee based on recommendations by the Ministry of Transitional Justice, Youm7 reported.
The Cabinet’s decision remains unpredictable, but a series of legal initiatives and political campaigns have pressured the government and demanded the annulment or amendment of the law.
On Saturday, human rights lawyers from the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) filed a lawsuit to the High Constitutional Court, seeking the repeal of two articles of the law on grounds that they violate or contradict principles guaranteed by the Constitution.
Lawyer Tarek al-Awady told Al-Masry Al-Youm that articles 8 and 10 of the Protest Law violate at least 13 constitutional articles that guaranteed the principles of democracy, sovereignty, political diversity, respect of human rights and freedoms, the right to peaceful protests, and equal rights regardless of political orientation, in addition to a number of articles organizing legislative bodies.
Legal and political controversy over Protest Law
The two major contested Protest Law articles are the procedures required to notify authorities of a protest organization, which should be stated in a written form three days before the event is to occur. The information must include details on the location and movement plan, time of beginning and ending, the subject of the protest or public assembly, its demands and slogans that would be raised by protesters.
The other controversial article enables the Ministry of Interior and security bodies to ban a protest or assembly from taking place, if “evidence, or serious information reveal that the event could be a threat to national security and order” without further specifications on what actions are considered a threat.
Combining the above mentioned articles and examining the current court cases over the Protest Law, in comparison to constitutional articles guaranteeing freedom of opinion through any means of expression, and the right to peaceful protests to be regulated by law, political forces and human rights advocates have concluded that the law does not “regulate” but rather “oppresses” freedom of opinion.
The law sparked controversy even before it was issued, and had been awaiting the State’s final approval even during the Muslim Brotherhood regime. Tagammu Party Secretary-General Sayed Abdul Al stated in comments to Youm7 in February 2013 that the government would be in an embarrassing situation regarding human rights if the law was passed.
Lawyers have also demanded that a judge other than former interim President Adly Mansour, now president of the Constitutional Court, look into the case, as the law was approved and issued by Mansour’s presidential decree in November 2013.
Under the current law, organizing protests without prior approval from authorities is only punishable by a fine, whereas engaging in violent acts during public assemblies or carrying weapons is punishable by a minimum of seven years in prison, in addition to other possible jail punishments in case public institutions are attacked.
A rights’ lawyer explained to The Cairo Post in statements last July how police and prosecution authorities could manipulate the law to ensure the detention of suspects, and said they had invented charges in order to fit acts punishable by law.
Indeed, several political activists and students were charged with breaking the Protest Law after being accused of carrying weapons during protests or attacking public institutions.
In the meantime, political and social forces have joined efforts in a hunger strike campaign that escalated last week in support of political detainees. They will hold a rally at the Press Syndicate on Wednesday afternoon after launching a new group called “Against the Protest Law” alongside recently released activists Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed Nouby and Khaled Ali, one of ECESR’s human rights lawyers behind the anti-Protest Law complaint.
The 2013 Protest Law consists of 25 articles, eight of which regulate the organization of protests and public assemblies, in addition to seven on penalties. Four of the latter include jail sentences.