HRW concerned over new Egyptian anti-terrorism law

Journalists and human rights advocates concerned over new anti-terror law approved by Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el Sisi

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has heavily criticised a new Egyptian anti-terror law giving a broad definition of what constitutes a "terrorist act."

Egyptians expressing their opinion on social media and in printed or online journalism may be considered to be comitting "civil disobedience" and consequently vulnerable to the new law.

HRW’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director Nadim Houry said, "With this sweeping new decree, Egypt's president has taken a big step toward enshrining a permanent state of emergency as the law of the land."

He also added, "The government has equipped itself with even greater powers to continue stamping out its critics and opponents under its vague and ever-expanding war on terrorism."

The approval of the anti-terrorism law gained momentum after a state prosecutor was assasinated in a car bombing in late June and large scale attacks hit the Sinai Peninsula in early July.

Despite the fact that the United States has supported Egypt’s fight against terrorism, the country’s intellectuals and activists raised the question of possible abuses of human rights in the name of the new anti-terrorist bill.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday "We are concerned that some measures in Egypt's new anti-terrorism law could have a significant detrimental impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms, including due process safeguards, freedom of association, and freedom of expression."

Also, press freedom groups criticised the new sanctions under the new anti-terrorism bill as threatening the free flow of expression through the internet and other sources.

Mai el-Sadany, who is a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said that the new definition of terrorism is too ambiguous, leaving such cases susceptible to being bent by political will. She also added that someone expressing dissent through peaceful means could possibly stand trial as a ‘’terrorist’’ under the new law.

Osama Rushdi, a former member of the National Council for Human Rights under former president Mohammed Morsi tweeted that the new legislation is a "jungle law to terrorise society and to officially clamp down on the rights and guarantees for fair trials."

Commentator Mahmoud Higazi tweeted, "You will get whacked the moment you open your mouth’’

He added, "If you die then you will be a dead dog - there is no criminal accountability for the law enforcers... say goodbye to your parents and siblings when you leave home."

Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt, was toppled by a coup orchestrated by then Army General Abdul Fattah el Sisi. The government proceeded to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood, the organisation Morsi was a part of, by labelling it as a terrorist organisation and arresting much of its leadership.

The crackdown has involved mass trials, random detentions and death penalties of hundreds of people since 2013. One reciepient of a death sentence is Morsi.

Security forces have responded harshly to peaceful protests demanding the reinstation of Morsi, with more than 1,000 people being killed during the demonstrations.

There was a lack of press freedom in Egypt even before the anti-terrorism law was approved. Three Al-Jazeera journalists were arrested and charged with supporting "illegal groups," referring to the Brotherhood.

The laws will establish ‘’special courts’’ and protect military and police officers who have used force from legal consequences.

The bill also allows security forces to employ violence or force in "anti-terrorism" operations, acquitting them of any legal concequences later.

Pre-trial detention periods will be extended for suspects arrested without charge.

Article 33 is among the most criticised part of the new anti-terrorism bill and specifies punishments for individuals who spread "false information." 

The law originally stipulated a two-year prison sentences for individuals who are found guilty of this crime. However, Egypt's cabinet changed the law, replacing the jail sentence with a fine of between $25,000 and $65,000.

Both the Egyptian Journalist Syndicate and the National Council for Human rights have announced that they were not consulted during the law making process.

Amnesty International also called on the government to withdraw the draft law, saying it is a potential instrument for authorities to "criminalise the exercise of human rights."

TRTWorld and agencies