Comment: Egypt’s cosmetic changes to the emergency law don’t justify its prolongation

In a rare burst of public relations activity, the Egyptian embassy in London circulated emails last week about the latest extension of the country’s emergency law which has been in place since 1967 (apart from a short break around 1980). According to the government the resolution before parliament asking for the extension “includes for the first time legal restrictions on both the scope and the application of the emergency law”. The government stated that from now on the he Emergency Law would only be applied in “terrorism and drug cases”, implicitly admitting that it has been applied much more broadly over the last decades.

New restrictions to the emergency law?

a) No more monitoring of communications?
Restrictions will now be put to the use of provisions 3.2, 3.3, 3.4 and 3.6, which provide theoretically for the monitoring of all forms of communication; the monitoring, censoring, and confiscation of media and publications, and the ordering the closure of publishing houses & broadcasters; the confiscation of property; the regulation of the hours of operation of commercial activities and the evacuation and isolation of certain areas.

However, Human Rights Watch points out that the authorities do not use these provisions of the emergency law making this is “a meaningless concession”. The government instead uses other laws for these purposes, such as provisions under the Press Law and Penal code to censor publications.

Emergency law provisions that remain in place include art. 3 (1), which permits “restrictions on the freedom of persons to assembly, movement, residence and passage in certain places or times; the arrest and detention of suspects or those representing a danger to public security and order; and the search of persons and places without regard for provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure.”

As EIPR notes: “It should be noted that these provisions are applied based on suspicion alone, not pursuant to a proven crime.”

b) Full judicial review of detention orders?
The government also announced that there would be full judicial review of detention orders under the emergency law, but security forces have routinely disregarded court orders for the release of such detainees. 

As the UN Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism noted in his mission report on Egypt:

23. According to documented cases and testimonies given to the Special Rapporteur, the Ministry of the Interior often renews the detention order against a released person with the unsubstantiated justification that the person “immediately resumed suspicious activities” upon release. Of particular concern is the widespread practice that persons are not actually released after a release order is given, but are transferred by SSI officers to non-official premises or police stations where they are held illegally until a new detention order is given. As a consequence, an unspecified number of persons have been held for years, sometimes over a decade, using this mechanism.

c) Article 179?
The official news release also fails to note that amendments to Article  179 of the constitution in 2007 effectively waive constitutional  guarantees of the rights to privacy and to due process in cases the government designates as terrorism-related, and grant security forces unfettered authority to detain persons, search homes and monitor communications without a judicial warrant.

In Washington, the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said:

“We are disappointed. We have questions about how this fits with pledges that the government of Egypt has made to its own people to try to find a way to move beyond the emergency law.”

Justifying the prolonged state of emergency by referring to the US
The prime minister tried to explain why the government had not been able to fulfill a promise made by Mr. Mubarak in 2005 to replace the emergency law with specific antiterrorism legislation. The government has reiterated this pledge on countless occasions, including to the EU and the UN.

He said that the government was having difficulty finding the proper balance between protecting the nation and preserving civil liberties, comparing the challenge to President Obama’s difficulties in closing down the prison at Guantánamo Bay and comparing the law to the Patriot Act, adopted in the United States after Sept. 11, 2001.

In the New York Times the UN special Rapporteur commented on the new extension, saying that “basically there is no legal certainty as long as there is an emergency law in place.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: