Friday,24 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1328, (19 - 25 January 2017)
Friday,24 May, 2019
Issue 1328, (19 - 25 January 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Dispute over protest law continues

The battle over the controversial protest law rumbles through the courts and in parliament, writes Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Protet law
protest law rumbles through the courts and in parliament

Disputes over the protest law continued last week when, on 11 January, the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters ruled to ban demonstrations in front of the cabinet building and “surrounding areas”.

The court ruled that protests against handing over Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, initially planned outside the cabinet headquarters, must be moved to Fustat Park. The protest organisers subsequently canceled the planned demonstrations.

Had Saturday’s protest in front of the cabinet headquarters gone ahead, it would have been the first official protest since a Constitutional Court ruling in December that Article 10 of the 2013 protest law, which allows the interior minister to ban protests, is “unconstitutional”.

The Constitutional Court ruled that organisers of street protests need only notify the authorities ahead of any demonstration rather than obtain prior approval, as is stipulated in the controversial protest law.

Though article 10 was judged unconstitutional the court rejected challenges against Articles 7, 8 and 19 of the protest law. Article 7 defines what constitutes obstruction of traffic and threats to “citizens’ interests” in relation to protests; Article 8 outlines police notification procedures and Article 19 stipulates that violators of the law are to receive a minimum two years in prison or a fine of LE50,000.

Under the 2013 protest law the Interior Ministry had to be notified of any public gathering of more than 10 people at least three days in advance.

Fustat Park is the only location in Cairo governorate where unauthorised protests have taken place since the 2013 protest law. In February 2016 the Zamalek fan group Ultras White Knights (UWK) gathered at the park to pay tribute to 20 fans killed during a deadly stampede ahead of a league game in 2015. Labour unions and workers’ movements protested in the park against a new civil service law in September 2015.

The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) said on 11 January it has filed a suit before the Administrative Court against Ministry of Interior decree number 37 that bans protests near “vital locations”.

ECESR Head Khaled Ali said the decree “makes it hard for peaceful protesters to deliver their messages to the government through peaceful gatherings”.

Meanwhile, parliament on Tuesday began discussing changes to the protest law. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi told last October’s Youth Annual Conference that the law would be amended. The cabinet has already drafted an amendment to one controversial article in the law which allows the Interior Ministry to cancel or change the location of any protest deemed a threat to security. The new amendment requires the ministry to seek a judicial review of any security threat before it can issue a ban.

The House of Representatives will also discuss amendments proposed by MPs Tarek Al-Kholi and Akmal Kortom.

“I have proposed that prison sentence for protesters who demonstrate without notifying the authorities be cancelled,” said Al-Kholi. He also wants fines to be less than LE50,000.

“The president is serious about amending the law and fully backs government and the parliamentary efforts to draft amendments that respect the right to peacefully protest,” he added.

Kortom’s proposals basically seek to place the onus on the ministry organising rather than banning and also detail the procedures that should be undertaken in when demonstrators are dispersed.

“The constitution upholds the right of demonstrate peacefully and it is up to parliament to ensure the constitution is upheld,” said Kortom

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