Tuesday,23 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1385, (15 - 21 March 2018)
Tuesday,23 October, 2018
Issue 1385, (15 - 21 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Guilty knowledge

Changes to the penal code penalising the withholding of information are supported by a majority of MPs,  reports Mona El-Nahhas

 

On 6 March MPs endorsed an amendment to Article 102 of the penal code No 58/1937 by a two-thirds majority. The changes stiffen penalties for anyone found in possession of explosives, and for those who withhold information from the authorities of people they know to be in possession of such material.

Initial changes presented by the cabinet were amended by the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee before being referred — on the same day — to parliament for a vote.

The committee struck out a provision in the cabinet draft exempting first degree relatives of the defendant from any penalty for failing to inform the authorities.

Under the changes anyone found guilty of obtaining, possessing, importing or manufacturing explosives, or material to be used in their manufacture, without a licence can face a life sentence. The death penalty can be applied in cases in which the explosives are destined for any form of terrorist activity.

Before being amended the article had stipulated life sentences, or lesser custodial sentences with hard labour, for anyone found guilty of obtaining, possessing or manufacturing explosives without a licence. Anyone found guilty of withholding information of such crimes would have faced a minimum of one year in prison and a fine of between LE20,000 and LE100,000.

It is being left to the Interior Ministry to define what constitutes explosive material. Under the changes courts may also order the seizure of property where the crimes were committed, and any tools and means of transportation used in committing the crime.

“The amendment supports efforts by the army and police to guarantee security and stability and preserve the state,” Legislative Committee head Bahaaeddin Abu Shoqa told MPs ahead of the vote.

He added the changes are in line with all relevant constitutional articles and had been tailored with the challenges facing security forces in mind.

“The amendments increase penalties to reflect the seriousness of the crime,” he said. 

Lawyer Essam Al-Islamboli supports the changes.

“Society has the right to take precautionary measures to safeguard citizens. Given the critical threats Egypt is facing the changes are essential,” he said.

“The law already criminalises anyone who has advance knowledge of a crime and fails to report it to the authorities. With terrorist crimes the penalties should of course be harsher given the number of innocent victims who lose their lives in such attacks,” he said.

Lawyer Tarek Negeida also backs the amendment.

“Anyone in possession of explosives or who knows about their possession should be penalised,” he says.

“And given the threat posed by terrorist activity perceived family interests are outweighed by the wider security concerns and implications for society as a whole.”

“Of course, before the defendant’s relatives are accused of having prior knowledge of the crime of possession there must be evidence to show this was the case. Otherwise families could be penalised for crimes they did not commit.”

Rights lawyer Amr Abdel-Salam warns the vague wording of the amendment places thousands of innocent family members at risk of facing unjustified charges.

“How can it be proved relatives of the defendants were aware of the possession,” he asked. The standard of proof required, he argued, needs to be more stringent than mere supposition.

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