“New Egyptian Parliament to Dismantle Tools of Repression”

Human Wrongs Watch

(New York) – Egypt’s newly elected parliament should urgently reform the arsenal of laws used by the Mubarak government to restrict freedoms, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a new report.

**Memorial in Tahrir Sq. in honour of those who died during protests. Captions in pictures attribute most of the deaths to police violence. Author: Sherif9282 | Wikimedia Commons

These laws were used to curb free expression and criticism of government, limit association and assembly, detain people indefinitely without charge, and shield an abusive police force from accountability, says re report, which was released on Jan. 16

The 46-page report,The Road Ahead: A Human Rights Agenda for Egypt’s New Parliament sets out nine areas of Egyptian law that the newly elected parliament must urgently reform if the law is to become an instrument that protects Egyptians’ rights rather than represses them.

Egypt’s existing laws – the penal code, associations law, assembly law, and emergency law – limit public freedoms necessary for a democratic transition, challenge respect for the rule of law, and impede accountability for abuses by the police and the military, HRW said.

Silencing Journalists, Punishing Political Parties…

Egypt’s stalled transition can be revived only if the new parliament dismantles Egypt’s repressive legal framework, the toolbox the government has relied on for decades to silence journalists, punish political opponents, and stifle civil society,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Egypt’s new political parties need to live up to the promises of the Egyptian uprising by ensuring that no government can ever again trample on the rights of the Egyptian people.”

Egypt’s transitional political leaders have failed to reform these laws. The ruling military has relied on them to arrest protesters and journalists and to try over 12,000 civilians before military courts, adding to the heavy abusive legacy that Egypt’s future civilian rulers will have to address, HRW said.

Egypt’s newly elected lower house of parliament, the People’s Assembly, will sit for the first time on January 23, 2012, two days ahead of the first anniversary of the January 25 uprising that led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.

On February 13, 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued the first Constitutional Declaration stating that, “The SCAF will issue laws during the transitional period.”

…Same Human Rights Abuses that Characterized Mubarak’s Police State”

Since Mubarak’s ouster the SCAF has been the sole authority with the power to amend or approve amendments to existing laws, and issue or approve new ones. But with the elections for the country’s new parliament now complete, a new body also will be able to pass laws. It is unclear, however, what the power and mandate of the new parliament will be vis-à-vis the SCAF,” adds HRW.

Over the past year, Egyptians have experienced many of the same human rights abuses that characterized Mubarak’s police state, Human Rights Watch said.

Under SCAF leadership, excessive use of force and extrajudicial killings, torture, attacks on peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrests of bloggers and journalists have become commonplace and illustrate how little has changed”. HRW also points out that the SCAF has justified many of these abuses by noting that they are authorized under existing laws.

Military prosecutors have sentenced dozens of activists and journalists for “insulting the military” or “spreading false information.” Both charges violate international human rights law, which protects the right to insult under freedom of expression and limits penalties for peaceful speech to civil defamation.”

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the expert body that provides authoritative interpretations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party, states categorically in its recently-issued General Comment No. 34, on article 19 on Freedom of Expression, that, “States parties should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”

The Military’s Prosecution of Journalists and Protesters…”

By this standard, article 184 of the Egyptian penal code, which criminalizes “insulting the People’s Assembly, the Shura Council or any State Authority, or the Army or the Courts,” is incompatible with international law and Egypt’s new parliament should amend it, along with other provisions that restrict speech, accordingly, Human Rights Watch said.

The military’s prosecution of journalists and protesters under the country’s existing laws is all the evidence one needs to know that changing leadership without changing laws will not ensure freedom,” Whitson said. “Egyptians need to know that it is the law that protects their rights, not new leaders who merely claim to share their values.”

The SCAF promised to lift the state of emergency, in effect continuously for the past 30 years. But on September 10 the SCAF expanded its scope of application beyond its use under Mubarak.

The SCAF has been using the emergency law, and the state security prosecutor has so far referred at least five cases to the Emergency State Security Courts, which do not provide the right to an appeal.

Both the Emergency Law and the Code of Military Justice allow for the trial of civilians before military courts, which violates the right to fair trial. Military courts have tried over 12,000 civilians in the past year,” HRW reports.

New Repressive Laws

The SCAF also has passed new laws under the state of emergency, such as Law 34 “On the Criminalization of Attacks on Freedom of Work and the Destruction of Facilities,” which criminalizes and imposes financial penalties for strikes and demonstrations that “obstruct public works.”

The sweeping provisions of this law, together with the archaic 1914 and 1923 Public Assembly Laws, are inconsistent with the right to strike and freedom of assembly.

Almost one year after tens of thousands of Egyptians rose up to demand their rights and dignity, it is staggering and shocking that not only has Egypt’s military failed to abolish the Emergency Law, it has passed new repressive laws,” Whitson said.

*Source: http://www.hrw.org/node/104380 – URL: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/01/16/egypt-dismantle-tools-repression

**Image: A memorial in Tahrir Square in honour of those who died during the protests.The captions in the pictures attribute most of the deaths to police violence. Author: Sherif9282 | Wikimedia Commons

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2012 Human Wrongs Watch

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