Egypt: Unconstitutional Law 71 Step Designed to Expand State’s Stranglehold on Information

In Egypt /Road Map Program, Statements and Position Papers by CIHRS

The undersigned organizations condemn Egypt’s issuing of Law No. 71 of 2021, amending several provisions of the Penal Code, and published in the Official Gazette on 13 June 2021, as yet another step in the state’s systematic campaign to define truth and control information.

The law is another manifestation of the Egyptian government’s determination to deny its citizens their fundamental rights, including the right to public court sessions and the right to know, through repressive laws that aim to obscure the facts and expand the authorities’ exclusive ownership and selective dissemination of information.

Law 71 amended several provisions of the Penal Code and added a new article that imposes a fine between EGP100,000 and 300,000 on anyone who photographs, records words or excerpts, broadcasts, publishes, or publicly displays the proceedings of a criminal court session, without the permission of the president of the court, and taking the opinion of the Public Prosecution. The amended Penal Code gives the court the right to confiscate devices used in filming, recording, or broadcasting, or to erase their content and destroy them.

Law 71 violates Article 187 of the Egyptian constitution, which stipulates that “court sessions are public, unless the court decides their secrecy in consideration of public order or morals, and in all cases the verdict shall be pronounced in a public session.” In addition, the principle of a  “public” session is applicable to all types of trials, whether in civil, criminal or administrative cases. The rulings of the higher courts in this regard have established that the norm for the sessions is to be public and that the pleadings are to be conducted in public. All laws of the judicial authority have included an explicit affirmation of this principle: the Judicial Authority Law (Article 18), the Civil and Commercial Procedures Law (Article 101), and the Code of Criminal Procedure (Article 268).

The undersigned organizations assert that the issuance of this law restricts and violates the constitutional text regarding the public nature of courts, which the legislator has made available to all without the authorization of the head of the court or the Public Prosecution. Within this public framework and with technological advances, the sessions are broadcast live from inside the courts, so the principle of publicity has been extended to all, not only those in the courtroom, and the live broadcast is carried out without registration or subsequent intervention. The organizations also denounce the issuance of such a law at a time when hundreds of cases of a political nature are being considered, with unfair sentences against political opponents up to capital punishment or in practice amounting to a death sentence (for instance, due to prolonged or life imprisonment in unsanitary conditions with routine medical neglect)  in trials that lack the minimum standards of due process and guarantees of international justice.

Law 71 aims to legalize the continuation of such unfair trials, and to withhold knowledge of violations, especially since the authorities in Egypt deliberately – and even legally- legitimize withholding information from the local and international communities, especially legal and human rights violations occurring inside the courts. In addition, the denial of the right to know is a common practice in authoritarian states that deliberately resorts to repression in the name of the law, in a way that undermines confidence in the justice system and threatens the conduct of criminal trial procedures. The undersigned organizations call for the implementation of Law 71 of 2021 to be halted, and the law revoked, due to its violation of Egypt’s constitution and  international human rights obligations, stipulated in international charters and treaties ratified by Egypt; the principles of which Egypt has committed to uphold before the international community. The undersigned further underscore the necessity of safeguarding the right to know what is happening inside courtrooms in Egypt.

Signatory Organizations:

  1. Committee for Justice
  2. Belady Center Rights and Freedoms
  3. The Freedom Initiative
  4. El Nadeem Centre for Torture Victims
  5. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
  6. Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
  7. Cairo institute for Human Rights Studies
  8. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression

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