CAIRO: As government officials and representatives expressed the need for a new counter-terrorism law during a seminar Wednesday, rights activists and opposition members stressed that existing legislations were more than enough.
Jurists and rights activists discussed the need for and threats posed by the new counter-terrorism law currently in the process of being drafted in a seminar Wednesday.
Former minister Ali Eddin Helal and Mohamed El-Dakroury, secretary general of the National Democratic Party’s values and legislative affairs committee, agreed that Egypt requires counter-terrorism legislation. They denied that the law represents a threat to rights and civil liberties.
“The purpose of the draft law is to protect people. Is there a regime in the world which will issue a law aimed at attacking people’s rights? El-Dakroury said during the seminar organized by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights at the Pyramisa Hotel, Cairo.
In 2007, Article 179 of the constitution was amended to provide for the drafting of new counter-terrorism legislation, which is currently being drafted. Article 179 also states that constitutional guarantees related to arbitrary arrest, requirement of a judicial warrant for house searches and privacy of communications “shall in no way counter preclude special powers given to the police in relation to counter-terrorism actions.
While the article states that these special powers are under the supervision of the judiciary, human rights groups have nonetheless expressed concern about the possibility of their abuse.
El-Dakroury and Helal dismissed these concerns, emphasizing that the draft law safeguards human rights.
“The law provides guarantees. The powers it gives to the police cannot be used in ordinary crimes; they may only be used when absolutely necessary. Police measures also subject to supervision by the judiciary, El-Dakroury explained.
Helal said that “necessary will be defined by the law, and that the judiciary will have the power to oppose police measures where it finds them unjustified.
Much of the debate was dedicated to discussion of the risks posed by the retrospective judicial supervision envisioned by the draft law.
El-Dakroury stressed that to insist on judicial supervision in advance of every police operation is unrealistic.
“When the government knows that a crime is going to happen it must take action; that is its duty.
If for example the police learns that Al-Azhar is about to be blown up, are they supposed to wait for a judicial warrant before they take action? El-Dakroury asked.
El-Dakroury pointed to the “79 states such as the US and France which have counter-terrorism legislation. He gave special mention to the UK, where he said “the police have powers to detain terrorist suspects as long as is necessary during the course of investigations.
Hilal added that with the new legislation, “Egypt will be a country which fights terrorism but within the limits of the law.
Abdallah Kamal, editor of government mouthpiece Rose El-Youssef supported this.
“The law will allow Egypt to lift the state of emergency. I don’t think anyone would object to this because it taints Egypt’s international reputation. The draft law will allow us to strike a balance between fighting the ever-evolving crime of terrorism and protecting human rights.
Kamal revealed that the draft law contains around 40 articles. Its first chapter will concern definitions of crimes. He said that it contains a “clear definition of the crime of terrorism and which crimes are considered of a terrorist nature under the law.
“Ordinary crimes such as theft of a personal ID card may be treated as terrorist offences where they are carried out for the objective of terrorism, Kamal added.
The draft law’s second chapter describes the reach and application of the law, penalties laid down by the law and procedures described in international treaties ratified by Egypt which concern terrorism.
Kamal dismissed concerns that the draft-law will merely make permanent the state of emergency and the wide-ranging, exceptional powers enjoyed by the executive under it, saying, “The law will deal with a specific, tightly-defined offence whose definition does not differ from that provided by the Security Council and domestic laws of other countries.
Several participants in the seminar rejected the need for counter-terrorism legislation.
Deputy director of the National Center for Counter-Terrorism Studies Saad Hagras said that the existing legislation was enough, and that a state of emergency declared in a specific geographical area and for a limited period of time is sufficient to face threats of terrorism.
Hagras criticized the lack of civil society involvement in the drafting process.
“Were groups consulted on the draft law or asked to participate in its formulation? Why this silence? Why wasn’t it discussed with civil society? he asked.
Former member of the People’s Assembly Abu El-Ezz El-Hariry was even more critical. He questioned the point of discussions about the law “because anything we say is completely ignored. There is no legitimacy in this country. [Members of the ruling party] do whatever they want to do.
“Advocates of the law say that it is based on the laws of other countries. If you’re going to impose laws from them on me don’t just take this one, give me the whole legal system.
El-Hariry was also critical of Egyptian security bodies who he described as “incompetent , adding that “if Egyptian policing was better the Luxor massacre could have been avoided.
Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies Bahey Eddin Hassan said that Egypt is not facing a terrorist threat.
“The last organized terrorist attack was in Luxor in 1997. Recent attacks in Taba, Dahab and Al-Azhar were random, separate attacks; on no occasion has the government suggested a link between them, Hassan said.
“There is no need for a counter-terrorism law; the penal code grants the police sufficient powers to fight terrorism.
Hassan made reference to a memorandum drawn up by the Interior Ministry in which it described what it would like to see in the new law.
“The ministry demanded the same powers as those it enjoys under the state of emergency and inclusion of Article 3 of the Emergency Law. If these demands are implemented this means that the new counter-terrorism law will be the state of emergency made permanent, he explained.
Hassan mentioned what he called the “new terrorists – human rights activists, bloggers and ordinary citizens who have all been prosecuted or detained under emergency law powers. He expressed fears that the new counter-terrorism law will be used against intellectuals, activists and government opponents.