Law on terrorist entities allows rights groups and political parties to be designated terrorists

In Statements and Position Papers by CIHRS

The undersigned organizations condemn the passing of Law 8/2015 regulating designated terrorist and terrorism lists, issued by President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi in his capacity as head of the executive and legislative authorities. The law preserves the same catastrophic legal provisions found in a previous bill drafted by the Legislative Reform Committee, also adding several overly broad terms in its definition of terrorist entities. The law thus erodes the guarantees enshrined in the Egyptian constitution and Egypt’s international commitments. It also undermines the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom to form civic associations and political parties, and freedom of the press, opinion, and expression. As written, the law could be applied to individuals even if they belong to no organizational entity.

The Cabinet approved the bill on terrorist entities submitted by the Legislative Reform Committee in November 2014 and forwarded it to the president for ratification. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies urged the president not to sign and issue the bill in a legal commentary on the proposed law. Ignoring these appeals, the president issued the law on 17 February 2015 according to official gazette with the same provisions that contravene the constitution and Egypt’s international commitments.

The undersigned organizations stress that the law relies on a broad, vague definition of actions on the basis of which individuals or groups may be designated terrorists. Under this definition, human rights defenders, political parties, or developmental associations may be easily labeled terrorist entities and their members terrorists. Article 1 of the law contains undefined terms that should not be used to regulate the designation of entities and individuals as terrorists, including “infringing the public order, endangering the safety, interests, or security of society, obstructing provisions of the constitution and law, or harming national unity, social peace, or national security.” Such broad terms utterly contravene several rulings issued by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) on the adoption of ambiguous penal provisions, allowing the authorities to interpret these provisions to serve their own interests. The SCC has considered this a violation of the principle of the legality of the offense, enshrined in successive Egyptian constitutions, including the current 2014 constitution in Article 95.

The law not only employs broad terms to designate entities or individuals as terrorists; it also allows them to be so designated for engaging in acts “the purpose of which is advocating [for these acts] by any means.” This phrase, found in Article 1 of the law, does not specify means involving the use of violence or armed force. As such, it could cover statements, reports, protests, or newspaper articles if they are deemed to constitute “an infringement of the public order or social peace.” We believe this provision could intimidate and threaten opinions that oppose the government using peaceful methods. The use of expansive phrases such as “advocating by any means for the obstruction of laws” is a violation of freedom of expression of opinion. For example, when Law 107/2013 (the protest law) was issued, many did and continue to demand that it be repealed, among them rights organizations, political parties and movements, and media figures—all of which could be designated as terrorists under the new law.

Most puzzling is that the definition of terrorist entities and terrorists in the law is broader even than the definition of terrorism in Article 86 of the Penal Code, which was also condemned by rights groups for its overly broad language.

The undersigned organizations believe that the fact that the law was issued without an explanatory memorandum was intended to further obscure its provisions and the limits of its application, allowing any person who crosses the authorities to potentially come under the sway of the law. An explanatory memo would clarify the intent of the law and the bounds of its application, as well as the terms and language used in it.

The law did not incorporate the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, among them that all provisions in the law establishing terrorist crimes adhere strictly to the principle of legality, with provisions stated in explicit, precise terms that allow individuals to regulate their conduct and with the definition of terrorist crimes limited to those activities that entail or are directly related to the use of lethal or serious violence against civilians. The special rapporteur also recommended that the designation of terrorist organizations be based on factual evidence of their involvement in terrorist activities and the actual participation of its members in these activities. The rapporteur cautioned that criminalization based on objectives and goals threatens legitimate entities, including human rights organizations and opposition groups.[1]

The law designates one or more felony circuits of the Cairo Appellate Court to consider petitions for inclusion on designated terrorist lists, but we wish to emphasize that an order to include an entity on the terrorist list is no more than a temporary order and cannot in any way be considered a full judicial ruling. Under the law, the order does not require the court to examine case files, consider substantiating evidence, or examine witnesses. Rather, these temporary orders are issued on a prima facie basis without an examination of the allegations. In contrast, a judicial ruling requires the court to examine the case files, hear defense arguments, and consider refutations of the evidence. As such, the orders that will be issued by these circuits are quite similar to rulings issued by courts of urgent matters.

We further stress the danger of such orders issued by the felony circuits specified in the law in light of the legal consequences of inclusion on designated terrorist lists, as enumerated in Article 7, paragraph 2, item 3 of the law. These are highly arbitrary, prejudicial consequences given the absence of diligent investigations, a close examination of the facts by the court, or the provision of defense guarantees and due process standards.

In a clear violation of the law on the exercise of political rights, Article 7 of the new law names one consequence of inclusion on terrorist lists as “the loss of the condition of good conduct necessary for employment in public service or representative bodies.” In contrast, Article 2 of the law on the exercise of political rights, in setting forth the grounds on which a person may be denied political rights, including the right to run in elections for representative bodies, makes these conditional on a final court ruling for crimes strictly enumerated in the law. Yet the law on terrorist entities requires simply a temporary ruling, not a final judgment, to deny persons political office. This provision serves as a constant threat against opposition parties and their members, ready to be used to deny them the right to participate in elections.

The undersigned organizations note that Egypt does not lack penal provisions to counter crimes of armed violence by extremists groups and organizations. We therefore doubt that this law will help to eliminate these crimes. What Egypt needs now is a thorough review of its arsenal of laws with a view to purging it of all laws that contravene the constitution and international conventions ratified by Egypt. This and other exceptional laws will only succeed in further narrowing the public and political sphere in Egypt and will act as a tool to target political actors and all independent voices that criticize the performance of the government and express their opinions peacefully.

Signed Organization:

  1. Cairo Institute For Human Rights Studies
  2. Alhaqanya Center for Law and Legal profession
  3. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
  4. Appropriate Communications Techniques for Development- ACT
  5. Arab Network for Human Rights Information
  6. Arab Panel Reform Organization
  7. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
  8. Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance
  9. Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
  10. Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
  11. Egyptian Commission for freedoms and rights
  12. Egyptian Foundation For Advancement Of Childhood Conditions
  13. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
  14. El-Nadeem Centre for the rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
  15. Hisham Mubarak Law Center
  16. Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners
  17. Land Center for Human Rights
  18. Masryoon Against Religious Discrimination
  19. National Community for Human Rights and Law
  20. Nazra for Feminist Studies
  21. New Woman Foundation

[1] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, A/HRC/13/37/Add.2, paragraphs 50–51, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/13session/A-HRC-13-37-Add2.pdf

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