The undersigned organizations deplore the prosecution and detention of tens of thousands of people for exercising their right to peaceful protest and assembly or for simply being in the area of such protests, in the wake of the adoption on November 24, 2013 of the law regulating public assemblies, processions, and peaceful demonstrations in public places, known as the protest law. The law was issued by Presidential Decree 107/2013 despite the wide spread objections of rights groups, numerous political and public-interest forces, and six ministers, as well as a warningfrom the previous UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that the law could lead to serious violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
The undersigned organizations reiterate their demand for the repeal of the law and the immediate release of all persons detained or convicted under it. If the law remains in force when the incoming parliament is convened, we urge parliamentarians not to approve it, to annul all consequent prosecutions and sentences, and suspend enforcement of the law until a new law can be issued that complies with the provisions of the constitution, adheres to international standards, and responds to the recommendations of the National Council on Human Rights and rights groups, while putting the law up for social debate.
Interim President Adli Mansour issued the law in November 2013 over the objections of six ministers, among them the deputy prime minister for economic affairs and the foreign minister, who detailed the grounds of their objection on October 9. Confirming the fears of civil forces, the law has been used to criminalize all forms of peaceful assembly, including public demonstrations and meetings, and has legitimized the use of excessive force to disperse peaceful assemblies.
This law was the first of a raft of legislation that contravened the spirit and letter of the 2014 constitution. Current President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi has issued numerous such laws, including the law on terrorist entities, the counterterrorism law, and amendments to Article 78 of the Penal Code on foreign funding,. The Cairo Administrative Court agreed in June 2014 to refer a case challenging the constitutionality of the protest law to the Supreme Constitutional Court.
While the government justified the adoption of the protest law by pointing to the need to confront demonstrations by a particular political faction and restore stability to the Egyptian street, the situation in Egypt is now less stable than ever. Violent extremism is finding new supporters by the day, and prisons have become recruiting grounds for violent groups.
Joining a peaceful demonstration carries numerous risks, from the arbitrary killing to arrest and sentencing of up to five years in prison in some cases, or prolonged pretrial detention.
In contrast, with the exception of the killing of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, security forces are not held accountable or prosecuted for the use of lethal force to disperse demonstrations; the few cases that were subject to investigation or trial ended with their acquittal. At the same time, the Supreme Constitutional Court has failed to take up constitutional appeals to decrees issued by the minister of interior that justify the murder of peaceful demonstrators.
The performance and practices of security forces in Egypt has not changed. The same violations and crimes are committed with every peaceful assembly and demonstration. On January 24, 2015, human rights defender Shaimaa al-Sabbagh was shot and killed by security forces as they dispersed a peaceful protest march calling for bread, freedom, and social justice and carrying flowers to commemorate the martyrs of the January revolution. The next day, security forces used lethal force against demonstrators in various locations in Cairo and Alexandria, leaving dozens of protestors and ordinary citizens dead or injured.
Under the law hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested for failing to obtain demonstration permits from the competent security bodies. The law requires organizers of assemblies to meet several unreasonable, impractical conditions while giving the Ministry of Interior the right to object to any “notice” of an impending demonstration on vague grounds, such as information that it may threaten security or peace. In practice, this means that individuals’ exercise of the right of peaceful assembly is subject to a system of prior permit, which contravenes Articles 73 of the constitution and Article 10 of the constitutional declaration of July 8, 2013, in force when the protest law was issued.
Despite sentencing hundreds to prison for demonstrating, the Egyptian judiciary has not seriously examined the repeated police allegations that typically accompany arrests for demonstrating without a permit, including assembly, blocking public roads, and assaulting security personnel, accepting such allegations as fact even in the absence of credible evidence. In contrast, it has taken no action on complaints by defendants in demonstration cases alleging that they and their families have faced grave physical assaults by security personnel, despite legal documentation of these assaults, even voluntary witnesses are sometimes treated as suspects and referred to investigation and trial.
Most recently, security forces arrested 13 demonstrators on November 19 for participating in demonstrations to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the Mohammed Mahmoud events. The prosecution charged the demonstrators with demonstrating without giving notice, assembly, and blocking roads. Although a judge with the Qasr al-Nil court ordered the defendants released on bail, the Public Prosecution contested the order. The Qasr al-Nil Appellate Misdemeanor Court, convened in chambers on November 23, subsequently ruled for the prosecution, after which the defendants were remanded for 15 days.
The confiscation of the right of expression and peaceful assembly through liberty-depriving penalties was and remains part of a systematic plan to shut down the public sphere. The incoming parliament must be aware of the consequences of enforcing unconstitutional laws and violating fundamental rights and liberties and how these laws have a negative effect on Egypt’s stability.
The undersigned organizations therefore call on the following:
1. The president must repeal the protest law or use his constitutional powers of pardon to immediately pardon persons convicted for exercising their right to peaceful assemble and demonstration.
2. The parliament must not approve the protest law. It should hold debates on the rules necessary to guarantee the right of peaceful assembly as is consistent with the constitution and international standards while involving human rights organizations in these debates.
1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
2. Alhaqanya Center for Law and Legal profession
3. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
4. Appropriate Communications Techniques for Development
5. Arab Network for Human Rights Information
6. Arab Penal Reform Organization
7. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
8. Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance
9. Egyptian Commission for rights and freedoms
10. El-Nadeem Centre for the rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
11. Masryoon Against Religious Discrimination
12. National group for human rights and law
13. The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
14. The Egyptian Center for Public Policy Studies
15. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
16. The New Woman Foundation