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Constituent Assembly passes more articles on freedom

Assembly head meets with Al-Nour Party to reach agreement over “identity articles”

Constituent Assembly Chairman Amr Moussa (second from the left) met with Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawky Allam (left) and Al-Nour Party’s chairman Younes Makhioun (middle) to discuss the articles addressing “identity” on Monday (Photo Courtesy of Amr Moussa’s press office)
Constituent Assembly Chairman Amr Moussa (second from the left) met with Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawky Allam (left) and Al-Nour Party’s chairman Younes Makhioun (middle) to discuss the articles addressing “identity” on Monday
(Photo Courtesy of Amr Moussa’s press office)

The 50-member Constituent Assembly tasked with amending the suspended 2012 constitution passed articles in the rights and freedoms section during a closed session on Sunday which the assembly’s backup members were barred from attending.

The assembly began voting on drafted articles while simultaneously working on finalising undrafted articles.

Constituent Assembly spokesman Mohamed Salmawy said in a press conference held on Monday that the assembly will be discussing and possibly passing more articles in the rights and freedoms article. Articles to be discussed on Monday include: the freedom of thought, the freedom of scientific research, the free flow of information and the freedom of artistic creativity.

Salmawy said on Monday that the Constituent Assembly passed most articles by consensus rather than voting, since the latter was “not needed”. He added that when putting the articles to a final vote, after the legal experts’ committee refers them back to the assembly, they will use the 75% vote-mechanism to pass articles.

Articles are passed by the assembly in closed sessions where media coverage is not allowed. They are then referred to the 10-member legal experts’ committee to refine their draft, which refers them back to the 50-member assembly to vote on them one final time. Should they pass, such articles make up the constitution, which will be put to a referendum.

On Sunday, the assembly preliminarily agreed on an article stating that the freedom of belief is absolute and that the state is responsible for guaranteeing that religious rituals are freely practiced. Salmawy said the committee will further discuss the article on Monday.

Article 40, passed on Sunday, states that all those arrested, detained or imprisoned should be treated in a matter which preserves their dignity and should not be terrorised or physically or psychologically hurt. The article bans and criminalises imprisonments in “physically inappropriate detention facilities.” The article also gives defendants the right to remain silent and invalidates anything they say when subjected to pressure.

Article 41 was also passed on Sunday, which discusses prisons and states that prisons are “a home for … rehabilitation” which should be supervised, alongside all detention facilities, by the judiciary. The article bans the practice of any acts which violate human dignity or subject people to danger. It states that those convicted should be rehabilitated after their release from prison according to the laws.

Mohamed Zare’, lawyer and director of the Arab Penal Reform Organisation, applauded the article. He said addressing the state’s responsibility to rehabilitate former convicts in the constitution is a positive step. Zare’ added that this was not addressed in previous constitutions.

The assembly also passed article 42, which states that personal freedom is inviolable. It states that postal, telegram, electronic and phone correspondences should be classified and bans censoring or confiscating them without a court order with a specified timeframe, in accordance to the laws.

Zare’ criticised leaving the implementation of the article to the laws. He pointed out that such practice, exercised in other articles drafted and preliminarily passed by the assembly, leaves room for issued laws to limit the basic freedoms that the constitution stipulates.

“The norm should be for the constitution to lay down the basic rules and then laws would go further into details, not the other way around,” Zare’ said.

Article 43 declares homes inviolable and bans entering them, searching them, censoring them or eavesdropping on them without a court order stating the duration of time for such measures and the reasons for it. The article leaves room for the exception of cases of danger or emergency and leaves the implementation of the article up to the laws.

Zare’ criticised the exceptions stated in the articles for their vagueness, therefore leaving room for violations.

“The vagueness of the article leaves houses subject to raids without a [real] cause,” Zare’ said.

The assembly also passed article 44, which states that every human has a right to a safe life. The article holds the state responsible for securing its citizens and all who live within its borders.

Article 45 declares the human body inviolable and criminalises mutilating it. The article also bans organ trafficking.

Article 46 preserves the freedom of movement, residence and immigration and bans distancing citizens from the country or imposing house arrest without a court order with a specific timeframe and for given reasons. The article also bans and criminalises all forms of arbitrary displacement of citizens; the crime is not subject to a statute of limitation.

The assembly cancelled a new article which the legal experts’ committee had added to the 2012 constitution, reported state-run Al-Ahram. The cancelled article creates an administrative police force which falls under the Supreme Judicial Council to secure courts and prosecution facilities. The police would carry out court verdicts and manage prisons. They said the police’s board of directors should include representatives from the National Council for Human Rights, the Lawyers’ Syndicate and civil society organisations.

Zare’ praised the article and condemned its reported cancellation. He criticised what he described as a “wide jurisdiction” for the police in Egypt, adding that the police should only be responsible for preserving security.

“In [developed] countries, there are administrative police forces which fall under the justice ministry and are only tasked with carrying out court orders; they are not concerned with security the streets,” Zare’ said.

On the sidelines of Monday’s session, Constituent Assembly Chairman Amr Moussa met with Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawky Allam and Al-Nour Party’s chairman Younes Makhioun to discuss the articles addressing “identity”. Salmawy said that Al-Nour Party has a position on the “identity articles” which is different from that of most assembly members.

Salah Abdel Maaboud, Al-Nour Party’s backup representative in the assembly, said the party has three suggestions to ending the controversy over the articles. He added that nevertheless, the attendees of Monday’s meeting did not reach an agreement over the articles.

The closed voting sessions are held amid the dissent of a number of backup members who are protesting the decision of being barred from attending the sessions. Backup member Waseem Al-Sisi resigned from the assembly on Saturday in protest over the decision. Nehad Abul Qomsan, Director of Egyptian Centre for Women and assembly backup member, said other backup members are threatening to resign as well if they remain barred from attending the sessions.

Abul Qomsan said that the assembly’s bylaws stated that backup members should be allowed to take part in all discussions on constitutional articles without voting on them. Salmawy repeatedly said that this means backup members should not be allowed to attend voting sessions, where discussions over the articles are held before passing them, while Abul Qomsan said it means they can attend the voting sessions without voting on the articles.

Abdel Maaboud said that the protesting members have postponed their promised escalation because they are expected to meet with the interim presidency on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

The Constituent Assembly has passed over ten articles this week. It is expected to be done with the constitution in December.

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