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Constitutionality of Protest Law challenged

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Court postpones lawsuit demanding the controversial law be deemed unconstitutional

Egyptian activists Ahmed Maher (L) and Ahmed Douma hold up a T-shirt reading Drop the law on demonstrations during their trial in Cairo over an unlicensed protest on 8 December 2013 (AFP File Photo/ Mahmoud Khaled )

Egyptian activists Ahmed Maher (L) and Ahmed Douma hold up a T-shirt reading Drop the law on demonstrations during their trial in Cairo over an unlicensed protest on 8 December 2013.
(AFP File Photo/ Mahmoud Khaled )

The Administrative Court postponed on Tuesday a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the highly controversial Protest Law to 17 June.

Issued in late November 2013 by interim President Adly Mansour, the legislation was drafted to regulate public assembly.

The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law.

Tarek Al-Awady, lawyer and member of the Front to Defend Egypt’s Protesters who attended Tuesday’s session, said the law “restricts” the right to public assembly rather than “regulates” it.

The law requires that organisers of any public assembly, be it a protest, march or general meeting, submit a written notice to the nearest police station with their plans at least three working days in advance. Such a notice has often been described by rights groups as a “permit”, therefore breaching the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Article 10 of the draft law allows the Minister of Interior or the concerned security director to cancel, postpone or change the route of a protest should either acquire “serious information or evidence that the assembly would threaten national peace and security”.

ECESR Director Khaled Ali argued against the constitutionality of the abovementioned article during Tuesday’s session.

Article 73 of the newly-passed constitution gives citizens the right to organise peaceful public assemblies, marches and protests after notifying the authorities, leaving the manner of notification up to the laws.

Al-Awady said that the Protest Law therefore violates Article 73 of the constitution, adding that while the constitution only requires a notice, the Protest Law necessitates submitting a “permit” rather than a notice, as it gives the interior minister the right to cancel planned protests.

During the next session, the court is expected to hear the state’s argument. Al-Awady said he expects the case to be referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court, which would look into the law’s constitutionality.

The law allows security forces to use water cannons, batons and teargas to disperse unauthorised protests. If the aforementioned prove fruitless, security forces have the right to the “gradual use of force”, where they can fire warning shots or sound bombs, use rubber bullets and then use birdshot. If the protesters resort to firearms, Article 13 entitles security forces to respond in proportionate measures according to their right to “legitimate self-defence”.

Before its issuance, the Protest Law received wide criticism from a number of domestic and international human rights organisations. Human Rights Watch said the draft gives the police “carte blanche” to ban protests in Egypt, while Amnesty International warned the draft would “pave the way for further bloodshed”.  A group of 17 domestic civil society organisations said that the legislation aims to normalise the state of emergency and turn it into a permanent state.

Several protesters and political activists have been sentenced to prison under the Protest Law during the past six months. 6 April co-founders Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel and political activist Ahmed Douma are all serving three years in prison for breaching the law.


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