CAIRO: Activists condemned the negative effects of Egypt’s 27-year-old state of emergency on Thursday during a seminar at the Journalists’ Syndicate.
Titled “The Negative Effects of Emergency Law on Egyptian Society, the seminar was attended by lawyers and journalists who outlined what they termed as the pervasive effects of emergency law on Egypt’s political, social and economic life.
Hussein Abdel Razeq of the leftist Tagammu party described the emergency law as the “worst law in Egypt’s legal system.
He said that the powers conferred on the executive by the exceptional law pose a danger to everyone in society, explaining that Military Order 1 issued in 1981 gives the authorities the power to transfer the trial of certain offences listed in the Penal Code to military courts.
“Between 1981 and 1991, 17 journalists were prosecuted in military courts, Abdel Razeq explained.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the trial of civilians in military courts, saying that they violate international fair trial standards.
“Under the emergency law the banning of demonstrations, conferences and seminars has become a normal policy, Abdel Razeq said.
“According to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, 47 demonstrations were banned between 1991 and 2001, he continued.
Lawyer Ahmed Ragheb from the Hisham Mubarak Law Center told the seminar that the application of the emergency law for 27 years was in itself a violation of Egypt’s international obligations.
“The state of emergency is only meant to be declared in exceptional circumstances and for a limited period of time, Ragheb said.
He explained that while the emergency law gives the military ruler – the president of the republic – the right to arrest and detain individuals without abiding by the basic guarantees enshrined in the constitution, the emergency law is itself abused.
“When an ordinary public prosecution office or a court finds that a detainee is innocent and orders their release, the detainee is not, in fact, released.
Rather, he is taken from the court to a police station and kept there until an administrative detention order is issued against him under the emergency law.
“In this way the authorities keep the individual in detention in defiance of the court release order, Ragheb continued.
He gave two examples of where the emergency law had been used in this way.
“In Taba after the 2005 bombings, over 3,000 inhabitants of Sinai were arrested in a random campaign, Ragheb said. “Hundreds of them remain in prison under emergency law detention orders.
Ragheb also pointed to the events of Mahalla in April 2008, when hundreds of people were detained during clashes between inhabitants of the town and security forces.
“Some 250 people were brought before the public prosecution office, who ordered their release. The law was evoked by security bodies to illegally keep them in detention.
“The use of the emergency law to override court orders illustrates the arbitrary manner in which the law is used, Ragheb said.
The wife of Sinai writer and activist Mosaad Abo Fagr read out a letter sent by Abo Fagr from Borg El-Arab Prison.
Abo Fagr was arrested in December 2007 on charges of “inciting riots and “damaging public property. Rights groups allege that the charges are in retaliation for his advocacy on behalf of the Sinai Bedouin as part of the Wedna Naeesh [We Want to Live] campaign he leads.
In his letter, the political detainee offered thanks for the support he has received and condemned the “fascist regime that has imprisoned him. “I know that when I am eventually released I will come out from a small prison and enter a bigger one, he writes in the letter.
Magda Fathy, a lawyer active in the defence of the rights of the falaheen (Delta peasants) said that in addition to violating civil and political rights, the emergency law infringes economic and social rights.
“It violates people’s right to demonstrate against injustice. People think that political freedom accompanies liberal, free market economic policy, but this is not the case, and it is the weakest, poorest members of society who suffer, Fathy said.
She made reference to a 1986 case brought under the emergency law and heard in a state security court against railway workers prosecuted for going on strike.
“Mohamed Amin El-Refai, the judge who heard the case and who found the workers innocent of the charges against them underlined the importance of the right to strike – in fact better than any union leader could hope to do.
Fathy said that Egyptian farmers are under constant assault and threat of eviction from their land, pointing to the example of the village of Sarando, where human rights groups allege the police assaulted, tortured and attempted to evict farmers off their land in the interests of Salah Nawwar, who claimed rights to the land.
She said that the government is unconcerned with the poor.
“Falaheen are attacked by the police in the interests of one individual. How is it possible that the state, with all its huge powers, positions itself with an individual against the poor and the powerless?