Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Counter terrorism bill to be issued soon : Egypt's Minister of Justice

A new counter terrorism bill has already drawn criticism both sides of the aisle with human rights activists calling it unconstitutional and the interior ministry saying it's not direct enough

Mahfouz Saber

Minister of Justice Mahfouz Saber

Minister of Justice Mahfouz Saber announced on Tuesday that a counter terrorism bill will be issued soon.

In statements to the media during the inauguration of a new courts complex in Kafr El-Sheikh, Mahfouz only hinted that the controversial law would be issued and ratified soon, giving no further details about its articles, asking journalists to "wait and see what will be in it.”

The counter terrorism bill defines "terrorist entities" and stipulates penalties against any group identified as such by criminal court. It was approved by the cabinet early this month in the second-to-last step necessary before becoming law. The bill gives the executive the right to dissolve any groups listed as terrorist entities, freeze their assets and arrest their members.

Several NGOs as well as legal experts expressed their concerns about the proposed bill and its constitutionality, particularly on the point that it violates several articles in the freedoms section of the 2014 constitution.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) issued a statement earlier this month asking President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi not to ratify the bill and to leave it to parliament for further discussion.

According to CIHRS the bill has a loose definition of terrorist entities; moreover, any entity can be labelled terrorist if they call to stop a specific law or overturn a court verdict “by any means.”

The human rights organisation expressed its concern that the terrorist label can be given to any organisation without proof that it conducted any of the terrorist acts stipulated in the bill.

President El-Sisi currently reserves all legislative power in the absence of an elected parliament, this allows him to both ratify laws and send them back to the cabinet for further revisions. Parliamentary elections are expected to be held before March 2015.

Last Monday in an exclusive report, El-Shorouk newspaper published a set of letters from the interior ministry to the cabinet regarding its concerns about the counter terrorism bill and its articles. The interior minister allegedly demanded that the cabinet resend its draft of the bill to security apparatuses for their input.

Among the interior ministry’s other concerns is that a court ruling is required to designate an organisation as terrorist, a process which it thinks is lengthy.

The interior ministry also hinted in the letters that courts usually demand evidence to designate an organisation as terrorist when the security apparatuses are usually the ones with all of the information. To the ministry, the concern here is that the court could reject such designation as a result of inconclusive evidence when the security apparatus has information to prove otherwise. 

Egypt has declared a number of groups to be terrorist organisations throughout the past year, including Islamic State loyal Ansar Beit El-Maqdis, Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, and Agnad Misr, which claimed responsibility for a number of terrorist attacks, including a bombing near Cairo University, police officer shootings and two bombings against police targets in Giza.