Egypt: Arsenal of repressive laws ensure continuation of permanent state of emergency

Date : Tuesday, 26 October, 2021
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In the wake of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s announcement on 25 October lifting the emergency law across the country, the undersigned rights organizations assert that this has negligible impact in practice, as the rule of law has been inoperative in Egypt since the July 2013 military coup.  In effect, the country has been straining under a permanent state of emergency even before the formal declaration of emergency law.  In recent years, there has been an onslaught of repressive laws enacted that have codified the exceptional state of emergency into ordinary law.

The undersigned consider the state of exception to be intrinsic to the Egyptian government’s ongoing circumvention of the law and constitution, and the commission of unprecedented rights crimes. As such, truly ending this state of exception requires the political leadership to stop suppressing all forms of peaceful expression guaranteed in Egypt’s  constitution, which is trampled upon daily by the government through an array of means, first and foremost through the enactment of laws and constitutional amendments inimical to it.

Egypt’s governing authorities must also end their repression of all forms of peaceful political and rights opposition. Although the formal lifting of the state of emergency means that cases will no longer be referred to the Emergency State Security Court, the court continues to hear cases brought before it prior to the president’s announcement, including recently referred cases. Moreover, other trials in that court, some lasting years, have ended in  heavy prison sentences that are still not subject to appeal.

Multiple laws have been issued that have entrenched a permanent state of emergency in practice, regardless of whether a formal emergency is declared or not. Most significantly, the Counterterrorism Law (Law 94/2015) gives legal cover for the security apparatus to forcibly disappear, torture, and extra-judicially kill civilians in the context of combating terrorism.  In addition, both military and civilian courts give sanction to a policy of impunity for killing civilians in Sinai. Law 8/2015 regulating the lists of designated terrorists and terrorist entities has facilitated the inclusion of activists and independent entities on designated terrorist lists based solely on unconfirmed police investigations. President Sisi also issued Law 136/2014 on the security of public and vital facilities, which legalizes the prosecution of civilians in military tribunals. Law 13/2017 gives the president the power to select and appoint the heads of judicial authorities, including the Cassation Court and State Council, which constitutes an assault on the justice system and a violation of the constitution. The constitutional amendments of 2019 further gave the president the authority to appoint the head of the Supreme Judicial Council.

These repressive laws will continue to be enforced even after the state of emergency has formally ended, entrenching an undeclared state of emergency and flouting all rights guarantees set forth in the Egyptian constitution. Trials in the terrorism circuits and military courts, and even in the ordinary criminal courts, continue to disregard all due process rights and guarantees for a fair trial, the same as state security emergency courts. Indeed, these courts have handed down an unprecedented number of mass death sentences—far more than state security courts have issued throughout their entire existence—most of which are upheld by the Court of Cassation. The same courts have sentenced defendants en masse to life imprisonment and prolonged prison terms, and have refused to open inquiries when detainees have been tortured and forcibly disappeared before appearing in court. They have similarly denied defense motions to have defendants examined by a forensic doctor to document evidence of torture and ill treatment.

The deplorable human rights situation in Egypt requires more than simply a formal end to the state of emergency, which has been rendered obsolete to Sisi’s authoritarian governance by the arsenal of exceptional and repressive laws and the collusion of all state institutions in furthering a policy of impunity and lack of oversight.

Signatory organizations

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  2. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
  3. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
  4. Committee for Justice
  5.  Egyptian Front for Human Rights
  6.  Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
  7. Freedom Initiative
  8. Nadeem Center
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