Egypt: Repealed colonial-era law used to sentence 474 Egyptians to death from 2014-2017

In Media Unite, Statements and Reportsby CIHRS

To mark the one-year anniversary of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) report Toward the Emancipation of Egypt exposing the Egyptian Parliament’s repeal of the Assembly Law (Law 10 of 1914) in 1928, the undersigned organizations renew their demand to suspend the law’s enforcement.  Originally passed by the British occupation authorities over 100 years ago, Egyptian governments have kept the repealed law alive, even strengthening its repressive capacities as a weapon against political dissent. The obsolete colonial-era law has undergone a particularly vigorous revival under current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. From 2014-2017, the Assembly Law was used to sentence at least 474 Egyptians to death in 11 cases. In 2017 alone, it was cited to imprison more than 120 people for sentences ranging from 2-25 years in at least five cases, most of them in connection with protests against the government’s decision to cede the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

The Assembly Law tramples upon the freedoms of expression and assembly in Egypt’s public sphere, criminalizing gatherings of five or more people if security personnel view them as a threat to public peace or security, regardless of whether any criminal activity has actually occurred. Egyptians violating the Assembly Law by exercising their right of association face up to six months in prison, while subsequent legislation based on the Assembly Law (Law 109 of 1971, and Interior Minister Decree 156 of 1964) authorizes the use of lethal force against Egyptians assembling in groups of five or more.

Under the Assembly Law, courts can issue mass sentences indiscriminately against all demonstrators and those who called for or encouraged the demonstration yet were not physically present, in utter disregard for determining individual responsibility for any crimes committed. In other words, proving ‘a gathering’ occurred is adequate to establish the criminal liability of every person who participated in or called for an assembly, even if they did not take part in any criminal activity.  Egyptian courts have thus liberally cited the law when issuing mass sentences against demonstrators, especially following the June 30th, 2013 protests that ended with the military ousting then-president Mohamed Morsi.

As Egypt stands on the threshold of a rigged presidential referendum that is an election in name only, the Egyptian government is attempting to extend litigation on a lawsuit seeking the Assembly Law’s suspension (no. 26254/JY71), filed by 32 public figures on February 1st of last year. In eight court hearings, the government has deliberately obstructed proceedings, filing motions for a continuance or presenting documentation with no relevance to the case. Recently, government lawyers moved to reopen arguments before a new Commissioners Panel, arguing that there was additional documentation and defense arguments it had been unable to submit, due to supposed time constraints.. In the hearing on December 7th 2017, the new panel adjourned to prepare its report, allowing the submission of additional briefs from both parties within two weeks.

The undersigned organizations and political parties called for a moratorium on the Assembly Law’s enforcement in Egyptian courts pending a ruling from the Administrative Court on the aforementioned lawsuit. The courts have the right to temporarily refuse to enforce the law as they review litigation. CIHRS also called on the Egyptian Parliament, in a letter to the speaker, to affirm the Assembly Law’s repeal, but thus far to no avail. As today marks the one-year anniversary of the CIHRS report issued on January 31st, 2017, and now marks 90 years since the Assembly Law’s repeal, the undersigned organizations underscore that this unjust law must be immediately suspended. Egyptians today must no longer be deprived of their freedom under the very same law used by the British 104 years ago to deprive Egyptians of their freedom under the occupation.

Signatory Organizations:

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  2. Al Nadeem Center against Violence and Torture
  3. Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF)
  4. Arab Penal Reform Organization (APRO)
  5. Adalah for Rights and Freedoms
  6. Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA)
  7. The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR)
  8.  Andalus Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies (AITAS)
  9. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)

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