The new anti-terrorism law was signed and passed by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, to be effective immediately, despite previous controversy over some of its articles. The law contains 54 articles.
In a Monday statement, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) called for action against the law’s passing, saying it was issued with scant regard to objections made by the journalism community and civil society.
“This reflects the state’s will to continue abusing executive and legislative powers in the absence of a parliament,” ANHRI said. The group added that the law was driven by “revenge” and aims at increasing restrictions by fostering a “permanent emergency state”.
Journalists, lawyers and human rights activists had objected to the passing of the law. Even the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) had denounced not being addressed in the drafting of the law, contrary to a constitutional requirement.
The NCHR had clearly stated that such a law should be “a temporary measure, have a specific time frame, and should respect constitutional standards related to criminal code procedures”.
What is terrorism and who is a terrorist?
The first article of the anti-terrorism law applies the designation of a “terrorist group” to every association, institution, and entity or organisation with “terrorist activity or purpose”. This will occur provided it is composed of at least three people, and regardless of its legality and nationality inside or outside Egypt.
Moreover, a “terrorist” is somebody involved with those organisations, whether in participating, founding or leading, or acting on his or her own, or who is engaged in funding such groups, also defined by another law called the “terrorist entities law”.
A “terrorist” act could be a felony or a crime, or incitement to violence through media. Other “terrorist” crimes include the use of force, violence, or threat, with the purpose of disturbing public order or safety, or compromising citizens’ rights and freedoms. It will also include harming national unity, the environment, antiquities, national resources or public facilities, or disrupting a judicial process.
According to lawyer Hoda Nasrallah of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), the anti-terrorism law “does not add new crimes to those already defined in other laws”. Rather, it simply adds more restrictions and penalties, according to Nasrallah.
“We are still facing the exact same ambiguous definitions of terrorism and terrorist actions, only the law allows more repressive action by security and judicial powers,” Nasrallah told Daily News Egypt on Monday.
Many of the above definitions were the same in the previously issued law on terrorist entities. According to a detailed ANHRI paper on the law in July, led by rights’ lawyer Gamal Eid, the definition of a terrorist group, “regardless of its legitimate status”, opens doors for fabrication of charges, and could apply to any legal group, such as a political party or an NGO.
The new law took into account the objections of journalists regarding Article 33 related to the press. This article had previously stated that journalists were to face imprisonment “if they publish different content than official state information”.
The law has now been amended, and Article 35 reduced restrictions on publishing to military affairs, and specified that “forbidden” media content concerns only terrorism and counter-terrorism operations.
In such cases, information contradicting the Ministry of Defence could become a felony of “promoting false news”, subject to a fine of between EGP 200,000 and EGP 500,000.
Not only is such a fine impossible to afford for most journalists and media institutions, which effectively maintains the prison threat, but the law further states that the court could order a journalist to be banned from practicing the profession for a maximum period of one year.
The Press Syndicate had objected to imprisonment and demanded the law to be amended, whilst also changing other articles related to press freedom, none of which were removed. According to a senior member of the syndicate’s council, Karem Mahmoud, the Press Syndicate is yet to study the new law and take action.
This comes as the syndicate is hoping to present two draft laws on press, including one which demands the abolishment of jail penalties in publishing crimes. “The fine is exaggerated, which means that in theory jail was cancelled but in practice it is still there,” Mahmoud told Daily News Egypt on Monday.
When the draft law was first made public, legal experts claimed it would take away defendants’ rights by speeding up the trial process and reducing periods allocated to defendants’ rights to appeal verdicts. The experts also claimed it would forbid sentences issued in absentia from being revoked.
In July, EIPR published a joint statement with 17 local human rights NGOs , in which they described the law as a “clear infringement of constitutional rights as it paves the way for an unofficial state of emergency that is indefinite in time and has exceptional judicial measures”.
However, Nasrallah said the officially passed version did not proceed with “such obvious legal defects”, by cancelling the articles that were set to expedite trial procedures. “However, there are other dangerous articles that enable authorities to restrict people’s freedoms and invade their privacies,” Nasrallah said.
Among the articles she said were “vague” and “unrightfully empowering”, were articles that allow the president to declare a state of emergency for six months after parliamentary approval (Article 53). Nasrallah also condemned Article 48, which enables prosecution authorities to monitor people’s finances upon suspicion of involvement in terrorism.
“Add to that, that the terms ‘detention’ or ‘arrest’ have been replaced with ‘reserve’ in a meaning similar to ‘seizing’, despite the fact that we are not discussing objects, but human beings,” Nasrallah said.
Most crimes defined by the anti-terrorism law exist in the Criminal Law and the law on terrorist entities.
Sentences to death or life imprisonment will be handed out for founding or managing a terrorist group, forcing a member to stay inside a terrorist group, funding terrorism, espionage for a foreign country, or the death of a person as a result of any of those activities. The term “strict” prison terms refers to a legal procedure of counting jail years in normal years, instead of nine months, which is typically counted as a year in prison terms.
Life in prison or a strict prison term of 10 years is the penalty for receiving or providing military training by terrorist groups, breaking into governmental facilities, foreign diplomats buildings, incitement to violence with the purpose of overthrowing the regime or changing the constitution or the government, hiding or destroying evidence on a terrorist act, joining foreign armies without permission or the facilitation of doing so, producing weapons, taking hostages, attacking military facilities, or hacking a governmental website.
A strict prison term of 7 years is handed for attacks on means of transportation, attacks on electric power plants or gas lines, assaulting officials in charge of reinforcing the law.
A strict prison term of 5 years is the sentence for incitement and promotion of terrorism and its ideologies, use or establishment of a website that “distorts security vision, affects a trial in a terrorism case, exchanges messages and orders related to a crime”, collecting information in an illicit manner regarding a judicial or police official.
Detention is the penalty for knowing in advance about a crime and abstaining from reporting it to security forces, preparing in any way for a terrorist act.
Further penalties following court conviction
Besides the original penalty, Article 37 of the law allows the court to undertake any of these measures against the convict, valid for up to five years:
- Deporting foreign convicts;
- Forbidding the convict from residing in specific area(s);
- Requiring the convict to reside in a specific area;
- Requiring the convict to be present at a specific place at a specific time;
- Forbidding the convict from going to certain places;
- Forbidding the convict from working in certain places or in certain fields;
- Forbidding the convict from using or possessing certain communication means;
- Requiring the convict to participate in a rehabilitation programme;
- The convict loses the right to “a good reputation”, a requirement for certain state positions, such as the judiciary, parliament, etc…
Based on primary suspicion, authorities can also:
- Spy on and record phone calls, electronic messages and any communication means you use;
- Monitor your finances, your company, transactions, etc;
- Security forces can use force against you without facing criminal charges;
- Intercept your packages and mail;
- Videotape what happens in your private space.