On Monday the 10th of February, Egypt’s legislative body approved the amendment of its anti-terrorism laws, issuing out tougher punishments against terrorism funding.
Following the establishment of the anti-terrorism law in 2015, human rights groups condemned the law with Amnesty International branding it as “draconian.” It called on the Egyptian government to revise the law, saying the authorities have an obligation to maintain security, but not at the expense of the people’s rights.
Egypt’s anti-terrorism law was established in August 2015. The law provided a vague definition of terrorism as any act that disturbs public order with force. It also made provisions to protect Egyptian security forces from prosecution, longer sentences for terror-related offences, hefty fines for those who according to the government publish “false news” and a special judicial trial for terrorism cases.
The latest amendment would expand the definition of what the government views as an act of terrorism. Anyone caught providing a place for training one terrorist or more, giving them weapons or documents in any way or form, offering support and financing in order to help terrorists travel, even if the provider does not have a direct link to the terrorist crime, would be labelled a terrorist.
Bahaa Abu Shakq, head of the Parliament’s constitutional and legislative affairs committee said the amendment would issue life sentences and the death penalty for a range of crimes related to funding terrorist attacks or terrorist-designated groups. The penalty will also extend to damages to state institutions or infrastructure, such as military or government buildings, power and gas lines, and archaeological sites.
However, the new amendment to the law could raise uproar among lawyers, human right groups and the citizens, as another means for the repressive government to expand its powers and continue to violate the fundamental human rights of the people. Intimidation, violence, and arrests against political opponents, civil society activists, and many others who have simply voiced mild criticism of the government. This is done under the guise of tackling terrorism in the country.
Based on the statistics reported by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, the government had detained, charged, or sentenced at least 41,000 people between July 2013 and May 2015, and held many without trial.
The Stop Enforced Disappearance campaign also recorded 1,530 cases from July 2013 to August 2018. At least 230 of those occurred between August 2017 and August 2018 while the whereabouts of some 32 of those who disappeared in 2018 remained unknown as of August last year.
More so, Egypt has a history of violating press freedom, with over 20 journalists behind bars. According to Reporters Without Borders, Egypt ranks 161 out of 180 countries in the world’s biggest jailers of journalists. On August 18, President al-Sisi approved a new law regulating the internet called the Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law (Cybercrime Law). The Egyptian parliament had passed the law on July 5, granting the government the power to restrict freedom of expression, violate citizens’ privacy, and jail online activists for peaceful speech.
The amendment of the law further poses a threat to journalists and media outlets, as journalists who do not toe the government line could be punished under the law. This will give room for the government to persecute anyone it feels threatened by, further subduing its citizens.
With this new amendment, the government also has the power to legally target human rights defenders, verdicts against protesters, and death sentences following unfair trials. The amendments are being sent to Egypt’s State Council for its review. A final parliamentary vote will likely then send it to President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to ratify.