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July 09, 2015

Egypt’s Anti-Terror Bill

By Anita Dhanvanthari

In the coming days, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will likely approve a draft anti-terror bill already approved by Egypt’s cabinet and State Council. In light of the latest wave of extremist violence in Sinai and the assassination of the Prosecutor General, the cabinet said the bill promoted “quick and just deterrence” against terrorism.

A draft of the 55-article bill was leaked to the Egyptian press over the weekend.

The law is intended to speed terrorism trials and sentences, including executions. The bill makes publishing news about terrorist attacks that contradicts the official reports a crime subject to imprisonment of at least two years. Using the need to combat terrorism as a catchall pretext, it would also further expand the powers of the government to detain and prosecute its critics. In doing so it nullifies many of the human rights safeguards in the constitution, adopted in 2014, and undermines the rule of law.

If journalists cite non-military sources or question official death tolls, they can be subjected to imprisonment, deportation, house arrest, or even criminal proceedings.

The local journalists union states the obvious in voicing their fear that this is a setback for the freedom of the press. If this bill is adopted, it will threaten the freedom of expression, limiting journalism to reporting only the government’s account of events.

In the past week, four journalists have been arrested in Egypt, in addition to 18 journalists who are already imprisoned. Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote that the bill “contradicts Egypt’s own constitution and defies any standard of free press.”

Another disturbing aspect of the law is its creation of a new category of detention, “restraining.” Police can detain someone solely on the basis of suspicion for a 7-day-period, which prosecutors can then renew an unlimited number of times, thereby restoring the power to hold detainees indefinitely without judicial oversight. This had been a feature of the previous State of Emergency, in force for over 30 years under President Mubarak and other rulers.

The draft bill grants police and soldiers broad impunity when carrying out “anti-terrorism” operations.

These provisions will move Egypt further away from a democratic society. Silencing opposing views by using force and imprisonment will only contribute to further polarization and violence.

As Human Rights First noted, these policies will work to increase violence and slow down any democratic progress. To promote security and effectively counter violence in the country, Egypt needs to respect human rights, including the freedom of expression and due process.