A Proposal Presented to Egypt’s Parliament to Amend the Controversial Protest Law

The Egyptian members of parliament have prepared a proposal to amend the controversial protest law number 107 of 2013, according to Al-Ahram (a state-owned newspaper). The human rights committee in parliament has already begun soliciting proposed changes from the government, MPs, and the National Council on Human Rights. The law was faced by major criticism from the human rights groups and activists as it restricted the right of peaceful protest guaranteed by the constitution.

In fact, the amendment initiative could be perceived as a good start. However, to be fruitful it must go to the deep core of the law, not to merely put some tiny changes to the surface. Accordingly, the amendment should have a comprehensive review of other laws issued over the past two years that contradict the constitution and which have narrowed the political space.

In this context, there are four major problems in the protest law. First, no peaceful demonstrations are to take place without the approval of the Interior Ministry, violating Article 73 of the constitution which requires only that the competent authorities be notified.  Second, the  protest law considers any meeting of more than ten people a demonstration which is subjected to punishment by law. This clearly violates again the constitutional right of assembly, association, and also the freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution. Third, the law also imposes harsh administrative restrictions on peaceful demonstrations as that every governor designates public places in which demonstrations can be held without prior notice. Fourth, the law sets harsh penalty that could reach five years of imprisonment and the payment of a fine of LE 100, 000 for demonstrations, even if the assembly results in no harm to persons or property. This violates the constitutional precept which states that sentence must be commensurate to the crime and flies in the face of logic, justice, and well-established principles of criminal law.

In this context, any amendment presented to the protest law should rectify these four points or else nothing will be changed practically  on the ground. In addition, protest law isn’t the only law that stands against democracy and freedom. In the last two years, other legislations were issued that curb political and civic freedoms. Amending the protest law is thus not enough. At least four other laws should be revised as well.

The first was Law 128/2014, known as “the law of other things.” According to this law, anyone who receives funding or other unspecified “things” from abroad or home would face life imprisonment or death in the case of public servants. The second is the ambiguous definitions of crimes in Law 94/2015 on terrorism, as there is no clear definition or criteria to terrorism by criminal law. The third is Law 136/2014 that allowed widening the military court responsibilities and opened the door to refer civilians to military courts , in violation of Article 204 of the constitution, which narrowly defines the jurisdiction of military courts.

Moreover, there are many articles in the Penal Code that must be repealed as it allows the imprisonment of people with dissident opinions under various sweeping charges, such as blasphemy, threatening the public peace, and disseminating false information.