Human rights organisations in Egypt have continued to address the government regarding the new anti-terrorism law to be issued. The new law hich gained public notoriety following journalists’ outrage at Article 33 of the law, which allows for the imprisonment of those who publish information from sources other than the government.
On Thursday, the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), headed by Hafez Abu Seada, sent a note to Minister of Transitional Justice Ibrahim El-Heneidy regarding defects in the law, that make it unconstitutional.
The EOHR criticised Article 33, saying it aims to prevent the acquisition of information and obstruct publishing which is a “restriction on freedom of expression and speech.” It also said the law allows exceptional judicial systems to be in place, disregarding defendants’ rights to fair trials.
Under the new law, durations for appeals on court verdicts have been reduced, in addition to the speeding up of the process in death penalties, which usually takes a long time pending revision from different courts and the Grand Mufti.
According to an EOHR statement, skipping judicial procedures such as appeals on verdicts is “dangerous and means unfair trials”. The statement also demansed an amendment to the law in accordance with the views of journalists and civil society.
Furthermore, chairman of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPH) Nashwa Nashaat told state-run news agency MENA Thursday that the expected law should be available to social dialogue.
“There have been serious concerns over press, speech, opinion and publishing freedoms. Discussions within the Press Syndicate on one hand, and inside the Cabinet of Ministers on the other are positive steps,” she added.
The state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) criticised the law, saying it had not been consulted in the drafting of the law, despite the law directly touching upon human rights. “The council demands to revise the law,” NCHR said.
In a statement released following a Wednesday meeting, the NCHR said that it obtained information regarding the law from the media despite Article 214 of the constitution stipulating that the “[NCHR] shall be consulted about draft laws and regulations that relate to their fields of operation,” and that “National councils shall notify general authorities with any violations related to their field of operation”.
The NCHR clearly stated that the law should be issued as a temporary measure, have a specific time frame, and should respect constitutional standards related to criminal code procedures.
The group added that the law should be revised according to seven constitutional articles related to freedoms and personal safety, seven other articles related to defendants’ rights during investigations and trials, as well as six articles discussing rights to press freedom and peaceful public assembly.
It concluded that “as much as countering terrorism is a necessity for the stability of the country and the people, it should not interfere with citizens’ constitutional rights.”
The NCHR’s president, Mohamed Fayeq, told French Ambassador in Cairo Andre Baran Thursday that there were no differences or separations between terrorism in Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria or Iraq, which requires international cooperation or else “Europe will not remain safe.”
In the meantime, El-Heneidy announced that there will be a meeting soon with the participation of Minister of Justice Ahmed El-Zind, in which three proposals to Article 33 will be discussed.
The first one would be to cancel the article, the second one would be to “transfer it” to become part of another law, and the third option is to keep it with an amendment of the punishment form prison to fine, MENA reported Thursday.
El-Heneidy said in his meeting with a senior representative from the German Embassy in Cairo Thursday that press freedom would not be touched.
“It must be understood that Article 33 is not aimed at journalism, but rather others such as websites which intentionally publish false information that incite to violence, disrupt public order and portray an unrealistic negative image of the state, in contradiction with official data,” El-Heneidy added in an official ministry statement.
The debate raised regarding Article 33, which the Press Syndicate strongly rejected, shed light on other flaws in the law that violate human rights and citizens’ freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. Different media reports suggested that the government was open to amending Article 33 to replace prison sentences with heavy fines