Human Rights Watch denounces Egypt’s ban on strikes and protests

Human Rights Watch issued a statement on 25 March denouncing the law passed this week by Egypt's cabinet criminalizing strikes and demonstrations, and demanding its immediate reversal.

The law, issued on 24 March by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's cabinet, rules that protesters and strikers will be arrested and either face fines ranging from LE30,000 to LE500,000, prison sentences of at least one year, or both. Even those promoting strikes or protests but not actually participating are subject to imprisonment and fines of up to LE50,000 (around US$8,300).

The New-York-based rights group said in a press release that the law violates international laws protecting freedom of assembly, especially as its “overbroad and vague provisions, including banning protests that generally ‘obstruct’ state institutions, or ‘harm societal peace,’ do not meet the narrowly permitted grounds for limits on public assembly under international law.”

The new rules will be in effect as long as Emergency Law is in place. According to the cabinet, it is an exceptional measure, taken because the interim government has been overloaded by the demands of protesters and striking workers, who have furthermore damaged the national economy.

Human Rights Watch pointed out that the abolition of Emergency Law — on which these new rules are based — was among the main demands of those who brought about 25 January revolution.

"This virtually blanket ban on strikes and demonstrations is a betrayal of the demands of Tahrir protesters for a free Egypt, and a slap in the face of the families whose loved ones died protesting for freedom," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Any genuine transition toward democracy must be based on respect for the basic rights of the people, including their right to demonstrate."

In force since 1981, Emergency Law enabled the toppled regime to engage in various human rights violations such as detentions without trial.

"It's quite shocking, really, that a transitional government meant to replace a government ousted for its failure to respect free speech and assembly is now itself putting new restrictions on free speech and assembly," said Whitson. 

Human Rights Watch also condemned the arrests made by the military during the last few weeks to try to halt protests and strikes. Its press release specifically mentioned the events of 25 February, 6 March and 9 March, when military police forcibly ended protests, detained demonstrators and tried them in military courts that lacked the standards of fair trial. Some were reportedly abused and tortured by soldiers.

The military issued an apology for the violence on 25 February, while in an earlier interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, Hamdy Badeen, head of the military police, denied any use of violence or torture by his officers.

While hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets on Friday 25 March to protest the new law, Human Rights Watch demanded that the cabinet revoke it and issue of a statement reaffirming the right to demonstrate and announcing the end of Emergency Law.

Related Articles

Back to top button