Human Rights Watch (HRW) has sent a letter to the Egyptian president and the Justice Ministry, urging them to make amendments to the proposed draft demonstrations law.
According to the non-governmental organisation, the law as proposed “would severely limit the right to peaceful public assembly and is open to abuse by police”.
The cabinet approved the final draft on 12 February and submitted the bill to the Shura Council, Egypt’s legislative body, on 17 February.
In particular, the concerns of the human rights watchdog relate to the vague terms in article 4 prohibiting demonstrations that interfere with “citizens’ interests,” or that halt traffic or interfere with the right to work. In addition, the article envisages that any violation of it would allow the police to forcibly disperse the protest. This, according to HRW, “in effect amounts to collective punishment of protesters, since if one protester assaults a police officer, it would be sufficient grounds for the police to disperse the entire demonstration, even if the vast majority of demonstrators are peaceful”.
Moreover, articles 5, 9, 13, 16 also raise concerns about various issues, including the allowed distance from public buildings for holding a demonstration (200 meters); the set of criminalised actions and fines; as well as submission of a written notification in advance of a demonstration and the failure of the law to place clear limitations on how the police use force in dispersing protests.
“Governments have a right to regulate demonstrations, but not to ban them for spurious reasons or to keep them out of sight and sound of every government building”, HRW representative said.
According to the NGO, the draft law restricts the right to demonstrate to Egyptian nationals and for this reason it recommended several steps for improvement, in particular, revising the wording of the problematic articles or even deleting some provisions.