Interim President Adly Mansour’s decision to send back the draft anti-terror legislation to the cabinet is “for show”, said human rights lawyer Gamal Eid.
Mansour referred on Monday two draft amendments to the Penal Code and Criminal Procedures Law to Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s cabinet; the amendments propose harsher punishments for crimes relating to terrorism.
The cabinet had initially passed the draft amendments on 3 April and sent them to the presidency for ratification. As per Mansour’s decision, the Ministry of Justice is tasked with holding “societal dialogues” over the drafts to receive criticism and amendments before issuing them, reported state-run news agency MENA.
Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), described Mansour’s decision as “an attempt to mislead citizens”. He added that he has little faith in the “seriousness of the president’s decision”.
“Mansour doesn’t have the final say in this matter,” Eid said. He believes the Ministry of Interior is unilaterally “mandated” with handling terrorism drafts.
Eid noted that Mansour had earlier sent the draft of the highly controversial Protest Law to the cabinet, also subjecting it to a societal dialogue, before issuing it in November 2013. The amended draft, which eventually Mansour issued, was largely similar to the one the cabinet had initially submitted. The Protest Law has also been widely criticised for breaching several human rights, most importantly the right to public assembly.
Mansour’s decision comes amid wide criticism facing the two draft amendments on crimes related to terrorism.
Misr Al-Qawia (Strong Egypt) Party described the drafts as “a black hole that will swallow what remains of freedoms”. In a statement released on Tuesday, Misr Al-Qawia stressed that the current legislative authority, represented in the presidency, is an “exceptional” one which should not issue new legislations except at “exceptional circumstances”.
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) sent Mansour a letter on Monday urging him to scrap the two draft amendments and providing a detailed legal criticism to the legislations. The institute issued a joint statement criticising the drafts on 5 April, alongside ANHRI and 13 other human rights organisations.
The 15 organisations described the legislations as a “blatant assault” on the 2014 constitution and international conventions Egypt has ratified. They added that the legislations create a “permanent state of emergency”, warning that they would “maximise the [state’s] failure to face terrorist crimes”.
The signatories criticised the drafts for “robbing” defendants of legal and procedural guarantees pledged by the law in cases relating to terrorism.
While Article 54 of the constitution states that detainees should face prosecution within 24 hours after their arrest, the draft legislations stretch that deadline to 72 hours in the case that detainees are accused of committing crimes relating to terrorism. The legislation also allows for a further seven days of preventative detention before defendants face the prosecution, if security apparatuses obtain permission from prosecutors to do so. The organisations warned that defendants can be subjected to “different kinds of pressure, including torture” during those 10 days.
The draft amendments also give the president wider jurisdiction in declaring exceptional measures, such as: arrest orders, search orders, evacuation orders and declaring a curfew to “preserve security and order”. The draft therefore contradicts Article 154 of the constitution, which obliges the president to consult the cabinet and parliament before issuing a state of emergency. The constitution also stipulates that a state of emergency cannot exceed three months and can only be extended once without requiring the approval of two-thirds of the parliament, whereas the draft terrorism legislation does not place a ceiling on the period for declaring a state of emergency.
The signatory organisations also condemned the draft amendments for issuing punishments it described as “disproportionate” with the acts committed. The amended Article 88 of the Penal Code stipulates the same penalty for any attempt to commit a crime related to terrorism as it does for committing the crime. The organisations criticised the amendments for putting execution as a form of punishment for 10 different cases.
The amended Article 86 states that knowingly joining a “terrorist organisation” is a crime punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison. The same punishment applies to those who “promote terrorism” through speech, text, flyers or recordings.
In Tuesday’s statement, CIHRS condemned this article, saying that according to the ministries of Justice and Interior, which have drafted the legislation, “words can be as dangerous as explosive belts and ticking bombs”.
International human rights watchdog Amnesty International described the legislation as “deeply flawed” in a Friday statement, adding that it “must be scrapped or fundamentally revised”.
The rights group warned the amendments would “give the Egyptian authorities increased powers to muzzle freedom of expression and imprison opponents and critics”.
Egypt has been adopting the rhetoric of waging a “war on terrorism” since Morsi’s military backed ouster. Morsi’s ouster has been closely followed by a militant insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula targeting security officials. Such attacks have prompted a heavy military presence within the peninsula.
On 25 December, former Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi’s cabinet announced listing Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.