Human Rights Watch has denounced the new anti-terror law in Egypt, saying it may lead to the erosion of fundamental rights. The U.S. also expressed concern about its potential impact on human rights
The U.S. denounced Egypt's newly expanded counter-terrorism law on Tuesday, expressing concern about its potential impact on human rights in the country, a military ally of the U.S.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi signed a law on Sunday that would expand the government's surveillance powers and, according to critics, stifle dissent and target critics. Human rights activists have accused el-Sissi of leading an increasingly repressive regime. "We are concerned that some measures in Egypt's new anti-terrorism law could have a significant detrimental impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms," State Department spokesman John Kirby said. The new law comes after a string of attacks on the military and police by the Sinai Province, the local affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). After a tumultuous few months, Washington and Cairo appear to have patched things up with the resumption of U.S. military assistance in March, to the tune of $1.3 billion per year - largely to fight terrorism.
In a statement released yesterday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, "Egypt's new counterterrorism law increases the power of authorities to impose heavy sentences, including the death penalty, for crimes under a definition of terrorism that is so broadly worded it could encompass civil disobedience." HRW also raised concerns that the law gives prosecutors the right to order wide-ranging and potentially indefinite surveillance of suspects without a court order.
"With this sweeping new decree, Egypt's president has taken a big step toward enshrining a permanent state of emergency as the law of the land," said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. "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."
The human rights groups also pointed out that the government has stepped up its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest political movement in Egypt supporting the country's first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi since Morsi's overthrow and arrested thousands and sentenced hundreds to death. On the second anniversary of the Rabaa massacre in which more than 1,000 pro-Morsi supporters were killed by Egyptian forces, HRW called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to launch an inquiry into the killings. "Washington and Europe have gone back to business with a government that celebrates rather than investigates what may have been the worst single-day killing of protesters in modern history," deputy Middle East director for HRW, Joe Stork, said. "The U.N. Human Rights Council, which has not yet addressed Egypt's dangerous and deteriorating human rights situation, is one of the few remaining routes to accountability for this brutal massacre," he added.
The 54-article law, published on state news agency MENA Monday, defines terrorism broadly, describing it in one clause as any act that disturbs public order with force. It also prescribes stiff jail sentences for a range of crimes, including promoting or encouraging any "terrorist offense," as well as damaging state institutions or infrastructure. The law also sets heavy fines for publishing "false news or statements" about terrorist acts, or news contradicting the Defense Ministry's reports.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the provision in the draft law, saying it "defies any standard of freedom of the press and violates Egypt's own constitution." The law gives the president the power to order the evacuation of areas for up to six months and to declare curfews in specified areas for the same period.
Egypt has not had a parliament for over two years, and legislative authority rests with el-Sissi. Any debate is largely through compliant media or behind closed doors. El-Sissi was the leading figure of the military coup that ousted the country's first democratically elected president Morsi on July 3, 2013. After el-Sissi took power, security forces targeted the political protestors standing against the coup. The protestors were either killed or arrested. Since the coup, thousands of other Egyptians have been put in prison for supporting former President Morsi. Many journalists, academics and supporters of democracy have been detained and held in military facilities. Many of those who were jailed have died in custody as a result of mistreatment.
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