Egypt’s new anti-terrorism law erodes basic rights: HRW
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says a new anti-terrorism law recently passed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi erodes basic rights.
The New York-based group said in a report on Wednesday that the law, passed by President Sisi last weekend, gives prosecutors greater power to detain suspects without judicial review.
The law also orders wide-ranging and potentially indefinite surveillance of terror suspects without a court order, it added.
The report said the controversial law defines terrorism so broadly that it could encompass civil disobedience.
Meanwhile, Nadim Houry, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, has emphasized that the law is aimed at curbing opponents and critics.
“The government has equipped itself with even greater powers to continue stamping out its critics and opponents under its vague and ever-expanding war on terrorism,” said Houry, adding, “Egypt’s president has taken a big step toward enshrining a permanent state of emergency as the law of the land.”
“The Egyptian government faces a serious and deadly insurgency,” Houry said.
“But eroding basic rights, curtailing dissent, and using ‘terrorism’ as a cudgel against opponents is no way to win the battle for hearts and minds.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, which has been labeled as a terrorist organization, and several other Egyptian opposition groups have expressed concern about the law. They have accused the government of planning to intensify its crackdown on dissent.
Based on the law, the government will set up special courts for dealing with terror-related crimes. Forming and leading a group deemed a terrorist entity by the government will be punishable by death or life in prison.
The law will also increase crackdown on journalists whose accounts of terrorist attacks vary from that of the government.
Critics say the steep fines may shut down smaller newspapers, and deter larger ones from independently reporting on attacks and operations against militants. Although it did not specifically mention journalism, the law has raised fears that journalists could be put on trial for their reporting at any time the state sees necessary.
Security forces and those who enforce the law, meanwhile, will benefit from impunity in case of using force when deemed necessary.
Hundreds of political opponents of the current military-backed government have been sentenced to death in mass trials since July 2013.
The military-backed government of Sisi has overseen a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood supporters and other critics. The clampdown on Brotherhood supporters has reportedly left over 1,400 people dead over the past two years.
Another activist dies in custody
Meanwhile, Press TV correspondent in Egypt reported the death of another political detainee on Wednesday, the 11th such case in less than a month in the Arab country.
Salah Abdel-Hafiz was pronounced dead earlier in the day in a hospital in Matariya in eastern Cairo, rights activists said.
The 40-year-old was arrested two weeks ago on charges of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Human rights activists said Abdel-Hafiz was transferred to hospital four days ago and was in a very critical condition allegedly due to being tortured inside the Matariya police station.
Several other detainees have lost their lives while in custody in the notorious facility including Karim Hamdy (shown below), a young lawyer who was killed in late February. Egypt’s Interior Ministry acknowledged Hamdy’s killing under torture as one of the “rare” incidents of human rights violations under the body’s watch.
At least 10 political detainees are believed to have lost their lives inside detention facilities in August alone, mainly due to what human rights activists describe as “systematic and deliberate” denial of medical case from the part of prison authorities.
The victims include senior figures of the Brotherhood, as well as members of the anti-coup alliance and other people attending anti-government protests over the past months.
In what looked to be a desperate attempt to avoid more international pressure over human rights violations, Egypt’s general prosecution on Wednesday ordered the release of 125 detainees who have been held behind bars without charges.
Egyptian security officials also last week decided to transport 12 detainees, including several top Brotherhood figures, to Torah prison hospital outside Cairo, ostensibly after reports emerged of their deteriorating health condition.
The families of several other opposition leaders have in the meantime reported the worsening of the health conditions of their loved ones, but have received no response so far.
Estimates by major international rights groups say more than 300 prisoners, most of them incarcerated on political charges, have died behind bars in Egypt since Morsi’s overthrow.
Official accounts show that around 40,000 people have been incarcerated on political charges while prison facilities in Egypt also hold tens of thousands of other people on criminal charges.