Joint press release: Despite widespread objections, government insists on passing a law "preventing" peaceful assembly, and refers for Presidential ratification
The undersigned organizations deplore attempts made by the interim government to pass a law on the “regulation of the right to hold public meetings, processions and peaceful demonstrations in public places”. They call upon the interim President not to promulgate this law as it contains the same core problems figuring in an earlier version that stirred up widespread criticism from the undersigned human rights organizations in a previous statement. Furthermore, several political forces rejected this law, including members of the current government. The UN Secretary-General spokesperson also urged for observing relevant international standards in any legislation related to the right to peaceful assembly.
The government had earlier referred the bill to the Legislation Department of the State Council for a legal review, as a prelude to issuing it. The State Council completed the revision process and submitted the law to the Cabinet, which in turn forwarded it to the Ministries of Justice and Interior to review the recommendations made by the State Council’s Legislation Department, which they did, and has now been referred to the interim President for ratification to enter into force after publication in the Official Gazette.
The draft law seeks to criminalize all forms of peaceful assembly, including demonstrations and public meetings, and gives the state free hand to disperse peaceful gatherings by use of force. It is noteworthy that the final version of the draft law included pro forma amendments that do not prejudice the repressive essence of the bill, and ignored most of the recommendations made by political forces and civil society, in spite of the release of several commentaries including proposed amendments and recommendations for the draft law to be compatible with international standards.
The latest version of the law, which the government is trying to pass in a haste incommensurate with a law that would have long-term impact on individuals’ freedoms and rights to express their views, continues to reflect the same oppressive vision, which looks upon peaceful assemblies as being an offense in the making, and to impose unfair restrictions on peaceful assembly, imposing unreasonable constraints on protesters and organizers of peaceful assemblies. Even though the final version reduced the period of ” notification” to three working days (Article 8), it maintained the Ministry of Interior’s entitlement to objection based on loose grounds such as the existence of reliable information (that such assemblies) pose a serious threat to security or peace (Article 10). Hence, the exercise of individual right to peaceful assembly is governed in actual fact by the prior-authorization system. Despite the fact that the bill excluded electoral meetings, and stipulated that “notification” of such meetings shall be twenty-four hours prior to the event, they were still subject to the same terms and conditions as other meetings, which are contingent upon the Ministry of Interior’s approval as noted earlier. The law also prohibits electoral processions, by defining a procession as a march of not less than 10 persons to peacefully express “non-political” opinions or purposes (Article 3).
Even though the recent version may have mitigated some of the penalties for violating the regulatory provisions of the law, it maintained custodial sanctions and hyperbolic fines incompatible with the nature of the punishable act, such as paying a fine of up to 30 thousand LE in case of organization of a meeting or procession or demonstration without prior notice (Article 20), a matter which contravenes the most basic international principles and standards, especially that those provisions ban spontaneous assemblies in response to an urgent event, a provision that is necessary in any legislation aiming to regulate the right to peaceful assembly and demonstration.
Although the final version of the bill followed along the same lines of previous versions, by condoning the use of excessive force, which could amount at times to killing – the bill authorizes police forces unrestricted use of cartridge bullets (Article 13) though such ammunition may lead to death, as happened in Al-Azhar University incidents on Wednesday, November 20th 2013, where a student, Abdul Ghani Hamouda, was killed by a cartouche in the face.
The latest draft not only imposed flimsy restrictions on the use of such lethal force, but went so far as repeal Article 15 of the previous version on October 9th, which prohibited the use of force in excess to the level provided for in the bill. This leads to questioning the circumstances which led to the deletion of this particular article, which could be taken to betray the unwillingness of some current governmental circles to impose some simple and insufficient restrictions on the use of force and lethal force by the police to disperse demonstrations. Such omission is the most serious indicator to the intentions of the existing power regarding this law, and its real intentions behind claims to legalize and regulate peaceful assembly, while in fact attempting to legalize repression.
The undersigned organizations also noted that the latest draft maintained law no. 10/1914 regarding assemblies and crowds ( issued by the British colonial power at the beginning of the previous century), which restricts the right to assembly.
The undersigned organizations reiterate their rejection of the recent version of the bill and of the unceasing attempts by the government to pass a bill that bestows a legal shield to repression in conjunction with the end of the state of emergency. They also bring to recall that security forces have an arsenal of legislation in the penal code and criminal procedures allowing them to deal with all the risks that might be encountered in the streets, including the illegitimate use of force and arms and assault of individuals. Also, laws that will continue beyond the current exceptional period must be issued by an elected legislative council, and to parallel necessary reforms of the police Corps Act. In any and all cases, and regardless of the authority issuing the laws, it should be committed to bringing the laws in line with the protection of the rights and life of citizens, ensuring accountability of culprits, and taking into account recommendations made by the undersigned organizations in an earlier detailed legal review of the bill.
- The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
- Appropriate Communications Techniques for Development (ACT)
- Arab Organization for Penal Reform
- Egyptian Coalition for the Rights of the Child
- Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions
- Egyptian Women’s Legal Foundation
- Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination
- Foundation for Freedom of Thought and Expression
- Hisham Mubarak Center for Law
- Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners
- Land Center for Human Rights
- Legal Aid Group for Human Rights
- Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture
- Nazrafor Feminist Studies
- New Woman Foundation
- The Arab Network for Human Rights Information
- The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
- The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights