Law used to imprison Egyptians draws scrutiny

By REUTERS
February 5, 2017 23:27
1 minute read.

 
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Rights activists are trying to force President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to throw out a law used by his government to imprison thousands of Egyptians and sentence hundreds to death by arguing that it was overturned as far back as 1928.

Over the past three years, judges frequently cited Law 10 of 1914, or the Assembly Law, in jailing opposition activists and ordinary people for protesting against Sisi and his government and in issuing mass death sentences, mainly to Islamists.

Security forces also cite it to justify the use of force against demonstrators that has led to thousands of deaths, a crackdown they say is in response to fatal attacks on police and soldiers and is needed to preserve stability in the most populous Arab state.

Little was known about the history of the Assembly Law until human rights groups decided to delve into the archives. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) non-government organization published a 95-page report on Tuesday.

The law, which criminalizes the gathering of five or more people and institutes collective punishment, was issued at the behest of British occupation authorities to stop Egyptians protesting against their rule in the lead up to World War One.

What the researchers uncovered was that in 1928, the then-parliament passed a bill to repeal it.

The bill should have passed into the statute book because the monarch at the time, King Fuad I, neither signed nor vetoed it within 30 days. However the king, who objected to the repeal but knew any veto would be overturned, prevented it being published in the official gazette, leaving its legal status, and that of the original Assembly Law, unclear, the report said.

Despite this, successive post-colonial and republican governments continued to apply the Assembly Law at various stages. President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who overthrew the monarchy, even made it stricter in 1968 following student protests.

The researchers argue, however, that the fact that the 1928 repeal bill went unpublished did not detract from its legal status and that therefore the continued use of the Assembly Law was, and is, illegal.

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