Egypt’s cabinet approved a presidential draft law amending criminal procedure code articles, allowing judges the freedom whether to summon or not witnesses to testify.
Amendments to Articles 277 and 289 of the code gives the courts absolute power in summoning witnesses to testify, without supervision, as the courts provide fair justice, according to the cabinet statement Wednesday.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) issued a statement condemning the draft law as “an addition to a big chain of laws that are excessive in wasting freedoms and citizens’ rights since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi”.
The statement compared the draft law, approved by the cabinet but yet to receive final presidential approval, together with laws such “the protest law, the judicial confiscation law, the extension of pre-trial detention periods law and the foreign defendants’ deportation law”. These list among other laws that not only antagonises freedoms but also clearly violates articles of the Egyptian Constitution.
Executive director of ANHRI, Gamal Eid, told Daily News Egypt that the government’s apparent reason for approving these amendments is to prevent prolonging lawsuits.
He also said the blame for prolonged procedures for lawsuits falls on the judiciary and prosecution, noting the case of photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan, who has so far spent more than 550 days in detention without trial.
Eid added that the new draft law “not only conflicts with the constitution and binding international agreements but it also destroys the idea of justice at its roots.”
Eid said there are two ways to counter the government’s latest move – through appealing the constitutionality of the law or waiting for a fairly representative parliament to reverse these amendments.
“The other way is political countering through pressure and exposure of such violations,” He added.
Eid believes the approval of such draft law is unprecedented, “even in more rooted autocracies we didn’t see that, not even with Saddam Hussein”.
The human rights situation in Egypt is dire, according to Nasser Amin, Head of The Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP) and member of the National Council on Human Rights (NCHR).
Amin added that the government should not use the “war on terrorism” as an excuse to commit human rights violations or issue exceptional laws. He explained that international standards apply, even in the midst of a war on terrorism.