The New Amendments to the Constitution to Combat Terrorism: A Violation of Human Rights and Suppression of Freedoms in the Name of the Constitution

In Salon Ibn Rushd by CIHRS

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) held a seminar within the series of Ibn Rushd (Averroes) Salon on Wednesday January 24th 2007 entitled “Do the Constitutional Amendments to Combat Terrorism Promote Citizenship or Breach Human Rights?”. Mr. Sobhi Saleh, People’s Assembly member for the Muslim Brothers, Mr. Diaa Rashwan, Expert at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, and Mr. Ihab Sallam, Attorney at Law and Human Rights Activists took part in this seminar, and Mr. Bahey El Din Hassan, CIHRS Director was the moderator.

Participants expressed their concern that the constitutional amendments suggested by the Ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) might lead to a new and parallel judiciary system to combat terrorism. Some of them described those reforms as the launching of a new political system called “the constitutional police state”. They also called for a rapid disclosure of the substance and provisions of those amendments to public opinion.

Mr. Bahey El Din Hassan mentioned that constitutional reforms lately raised by President Mubarak are the most extensive of their kind since Egypt has had any constitutions. He indicated that the substance of those amendments regarding an anti-terrorist act would lead to modifications of the guarantees provided in Articles 40, 41 and 45 of the present constitution to the extent that smash those guarantees, so that government would come forth with the new law fully assured that its constitutionality would not be contested.

Ihab Sallam called for the provision of genuine guarantees to both citizens and society before drafting this law on terrorism. He indicated that thousands of citizens are being repeatedly arrested according to the Emergency Law, while others were pleaded not guilty and released without the execution of court rulings, in a total disrespect to the rulings of the judiciary. He emphasized that the new law should include an unambiguous and highly explicit definition of terrorist crimes, in light of what he described as “disrespect of authorities to the Emergency Law it self”, indicating that the anti-terrorist act would be more serious than the Emergency Law.

Sallam added that the Emergency Law was flagrantly violated at all levels of rights and freedoms, giving widespread powers to the Executive to arrest under the pretext of suspicion any persons without charges or trial. He indicated meanwhile that the practical reality proved that guarantees included in this law are merely nominal, and were not even respected, as tens of thousands of citizens were arrested and some of them continued in detention for over 15 years.

Sallam pointed out that freedoms of citizens are protected not only by the Constitution, but there is also a set of international instruments that ensure this protection. He criticized what has been leaked regarding the new anti-terrorist act and its attempt to “fend off the damage”, i.e., punish people for their “intentions”, which raises many concerns, especially that judiciary protection cannot be relied upon given the hegemony of the Executive and its upper hand over the judiciary affairs.

Mr. Sobhi Saleh described those reforms as “a new invention” by government, and the launching of the constitutional police state. This state gives supremacy to the policing strategy over the idea of rights and freedoms, the judiciary and constitutional guarantees.

Saleh revealed that Egypt is still being ruled by laws enacted in the British occupation era, such as Law No 10 of 1914 on crowding, Law No 14 of 1923 on public assemblies, and Law No 85 of 1949 on the Preservation of Order in Educational Institutes. He indicated that in the post-1952 Revolution period, another dozen of laws was enacted that intended to aggravate punishments and sentences included in laws regarding political crimes.

Saleh added that late president Sadat maintained the Emergency Law and promulgated the 1971 Constitution, which included an important section on rights and freedoms. However, this section remained in abeyance due to the Emergency Law. Saleh also mentioned that when Sadat wanted to suspend the Emergency Law, he issued instead 13 laws – described then as ill-reputed- including inter alia the Law of Shame, of Political Parties and the Press Law.

Saleh proceeded and pointed out that President Mubarak’s regime is dealing with the Egyptian people with the same rationale as that of the British occupation. When demonstrators go out to the street to express their opinion, the ruling regime uses the same law enacted during the occupation period and mobilizes thousands of Central Security forces to resist this demonstration!

Saleh indicated that the regime in force now is ruling through a dozen of ill-reputed laws, accumulated over previous eras. The regime is also enacting its own laws to aggravate the imprisonment punishment and the amount of fines paid. In 1992, the so-called Anti- Terrorist Law No 97 was enacted, which included several “disasters”: Article 86 of this law, for instance, listed 25 prohibited acts and requested the magistrate – as per the text of the article- to free himself from humanity and refrain from using clemency.

Saleh said that the experience of the ruling regime with the people emphasizes that the proposed constitutional amendments aim at launching a new political regime that he called “constitutional police state”. He provided evidence to entrench his opinion from the amendments that raise the security matters above the rights and freedoms of citizens. The regime wishes to endow legitimacy on the continuous breaches of police forces so that they can do whatever they want while guaranteeing their immunity.

He also added that the Egyptian legal system is not in need of a new anti-terrorist act, because it is replete, in quite a unique and unprecedented fashion, with such types of initial and exceptional legislation to combat terrorism.

Diaa Rashwan expressed concerns that constitutional reforms would lead to a new and parallel legislative system named “The Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor General” like the experience of the Socialist Prosecutor General.

Rashwan called for an immediate disclosure of the proposed texts for constitutional amendments and mentioned that they should not be surrounded with obscurity and left to inferences. He warned that leaks of the new amendments seriously mention that the new judiciary system that would be created allegedly for “combating terrorism” would include all the tools: laws, bodies and power in addition to being selective, as it would be under full sway of the Executive Estate.

Rashwan criticized the constitutional amendments on “depleting the heads of terrorism”, explaining that such statement would expand the circle of incrimination to reach a greater number of citizens, politicians, writers and journalists, as it includes indistinct, vague and highly verbose words.

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