Egypt introduces new law to combat terrorism

Death penalty possible for those convicted of forming, financing or leading terrorist cells

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi: The law he ratified has been criticised by the Journalists Syndicate, media workers and human rights activists, who argue that key provisions would muzzle the press.  Photograph: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi: The law he ratified has been criticised by the Journalists Syndicate, media workers and human rights activists, who argue that key provisions would muzzle the press. Photograph: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

 

Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has ratified a new anti-terrorism law aimed at stemming the rising tide of terrorism in the country.

The law gives the police and prosecutors additional powers for combating terrorism, and provides for death penalties and life sentences for those convicted of forming, financing or leading terrorist cells. Membership of such a group could earn a sentence of 10 years, while inciting violence and creating websites promoting terrorism could carry sentences of five to seven years.

In an effort to speed up legal proceedings, special courts are to be set up to try suspects. Defendants will no longer be allowed two appeals but will be granted a single appeal before Egypt’s highest court.

This provision is meant to ensure appeals submitted under the new law would be settled within three months rather than years, as at present.

Muzzling of press

Article 35 provides for fines of between €23,000 and €60,000 for contradicting “official statements [and] reporting false information on terrorist attacks in Egypt”. The original version of the law had threatened a minimum two-year sentence for journalists convicted of this offence but was amended in response to an outcry from the media.

However, few if any Egyptian journalists would be able to pay such high fines. Critics claim the fine could bankrupt smaller newspapers and deter others from reporting.

The law also allows courts to ban convicted journalists from practising the profession for a period of no more than a year, if the crime “violates the principles of the profession”.

Amnesty International’s North Africa acting director Said Boumedouha has saidthe new law would become “yet another tool for the authorities to crush all forms of dissent and steamroll over basic human rights”.

Minister of parliamentary affairs Ibrahim el-Heneidy defended the law as a major tool in Egypt’s “war against terrorism”.

Legislation was expedited following the assassination by car bomb at the end of June of Egypt’s prosecutor, Hisham Barakat. When this was succeeded by an attack on troops by Islamic State affiliate Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the military was outraged by media reports that dozens of soldiers had been killed. The official death toll was 21 soldiers and scores of jihadis.

The law came into effect 48 hours after small, scattered protests marked the second anniversary of the dispersal in Cairo of two Muslim Brotherhood encampments protesting against the ousting of then president Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood veteran, following mass demonstrations.

The Brotherhood’s call for widespread anniversary rallies went largely ignored due to the government’s crackdown on the movement.