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Egyptian terrorism bill a 'deadly blow to human rights'

Egyptian youth take part in an anti-coup protest in Nahiyya, Cairo [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 July, 2015

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A draconian counterterrorism law expanding the Egyptian authorities’ iron grip on power would strike at the very heart of basic freedoms and human rights principles, Amnesty International said.

A counterterrorism law in Egypt, which will make it a crime to contradict the official version of terrorist attacks should be scrapped, a rights group said, calling it a "strike at the very heart of basic freedoms".

The draft law was proposed after a car bomb killed Egypt's top prosecutor on June 29 and a series of other attacks killed 17 members of the security forces in North Sinai.

     The proposed counterterrorism law threatens the most fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association


“The counterterrorism law is a clear knee-jerk reaction to consolidate the authorities’ iron grip on power in order to counter recent security threats" said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

"While the Egyptian authorities have an obligation to maintain security, they should not trample all over human rights in the process,” Boumedouha added.

The law is currently being discussed by the cabinet and if approved, could be signed off by Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and ratified within days.

London-based human rights group, Amnesty International said the draft law represents a flagrant attack on the rights to freedom of expression, that it weakens safeguards to ensure fair trials and it widens the use of the death penalty.

“The proposed counterterrorism law vastly expands the Egyptian authorities’ powers and threatens the most fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association" Boumedouha said.

"If approved, it is set to become yet another tool for the authorities to crush all forms of dissent” Boumedouha added.

The draft law also permits the authorities to take extreme measures that would usually only be invoked during a state of emergency, Amnesty said.

“One of the key reasons the Egyptian people took to the streets in 2011 was to abolish the 30-year-long state of emergency imposed by Hosni Mubarak. Granting the current President similar absolute powers is a deadly blow to human rights in Egypt,” Boumedouha said.

The law also imposes severe restrictions on journalists and others reporting on “terrorist” attacks who include details or statistics that differ from those announced by the state.

Those who do so could face at least two years in prison.

The draft law would effectively ban journalists from collecting information from different sources, including eye witnesses and families, to challenge the government’s narrative.

At least 18 journalists are already in detention on charges that include “broadcasting false information”, which is not a recognised under international law.

Thousands of people, including peaceful protestors, human rights activists and journalists are already languishing in Egypt’s prisons facing similar charges that include “disturbing public order and social peace” and “impeding the application of the laws”.

The law also establishes special terrorism courts to rule on “terrorist” offences and adds new offences to the list of those punishable by death.

“Hundreds of Egyptians have already been sentenced to death in Egypt after grossly unfair trials. The counterterrorism law would see scores more at risk of execution after similarly egregious proceedings. Instead of finding a way to expand the application of the death penalty, the authorities should be taking steps to end its use,” said Boumedouha. 

Seven men were executed in Egypt in 2015 after grossly unfair trials including in special military courts.

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