Parliamentary committee approves harsher penalties for torture

Parliament’s constitutional, legislative and human rights committees approved a draft law Monday that could amend how the country's courts prosecute torture crimes. The amendment proposed changes to articles of the penal code and criminal procedures related to torture crimes.

The proposed law says that every civil servant who tortured, incited, approved or was silent about torture should be sentenced to no less than five years of “rigorous imprisonment.” Whoever participated in the act should be held accountable. In the case of the victim's death, punishment should be the same as for murder.

The current law stipulates no less than three years in prison and hard labor as punishment for those who tortured or ordered torture.

Deputy Justice Minister Omar al-Sherif rejected equality among participants in torture either by action or inciting and those who were silent about it.

“It’s not fair to equate them that way,” he said. “I would go with giving the death penalty for whoever committed or ordered torture, but not the same with a person who was silent about it, especially as it’s hard to prove.”

Other amendments stated that every civil servant who abused his power by giving degrading treatment to someone should be sentenced to no less than a year in prison.

However, Sherif objected to the use of ‘degrading treatment.’

“It will spark controversy,” he said. “A person who doesn’t greet someone or show respect would be considered to be meting out ‘degrading treatment.’”

There was also a provision for victims of torture to file a lawsuit against the person who tortured him, which was cause for controversy in the committee meeting. MP Sobhi Saleh, the committee's deputy, said that the amendment could reopen all the cases currently on file at the attorney general’s office.

He said some people could take advantage of an easy way to file suit against a public official.

Current laws grant only the attorney general, general lawyer at the prosecution office and the head prosecutor with the ability to file a lawsuit against a civil servant or a policeman.

MP Essam Sultan, however, said he supported filing lawsuits before criminal court even if it resulted in some disadvantages.

MP Mohamed Mounib said that members should keep in mind that the amendments are meant to end criminal torture practices, a tool which the state security officers used to intimidate citizens.

Translated from Al-Masry Al-Youm

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