CAIRO: The charges faced by ten protesters arrested in front of Cabinet on Wednesday have nothing to do with the new law criminalizing strikes that disrupt economic productivity, a lawyer told Daily News Egypt Thursday.
"The prosecution ordered them remanded in custody for four days pending investigation, and charged them with insulting public servants [police officers], blocking traffic, illegal gathering and threatening national security," said lawyer at Hisham Mubarak Law Center Ahmed Hossam, adding that these provisions are not included in the law banning protests.
The protesters, five farmers, three workers at Al-Nasr Company for Cars, and two Al-Azhar students, were arrested at 4 pm Wednesday. The interrogation by the Abdeen prosecution began at 7 pm and lasted for six hours, he added.
"One of the Azhar students, Gomaa Galal Mahmoud, is top of his class and was honored in Germany. Now he is in prison for demanding his rights," Hossam said.
While the workers demanded better wages and working conditions, the farmers demanded ownership of the land they rent from the state and a decrease in the price of fertilizers.
The two Azhar students were demanding employment opportunities.
Egypt’s caretaker government had warned on Wednesday that it would punish those who take part in protests that affect productivity as the beleaguered country looks to foreign aid to bolster its economy.
Cabinet said in a statement on its Facebook page that it "would implement articles in the law … that criminalize strikes and the disruption of economic productivity."
Approved by Cabinet in March, the controversial law prescribes a one-year jail sentence and a fine of up to LE 500,000 to anyone who participates in protests which “disrupt private or public work.”
The law, which was heavily criticized by rights groups, is to stay in effect for as long as the country remains in a state of emergency, according to press reports.
"The government will not hesitate to confront attempts by any group or sector that aims at nullifying the law or harming the national economy, particularly in this sensitive period," the Cabinet statement said.
The country has seen several labor protests in the past few days, including a strike by underground metro workers.
The Egyptian economy has deteriorated after a revolt ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February, with unemployment rising by three points to 11.9 percent, according to the government. Unofficial sources place the youth-unemployment rate at about 25 percent.
The Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) condemned in a statement the government’s decision to implement the law, describing it as a setback to efforts to remove Egypt from a blacklist of countries violating labor rights according to International Labor Organization (ILO) standards.
The statement also cited the arrest of five workers in Petroget Oil Company who were protesting in front of the Petroleum Ministry and were referred to military prosecution.
It also condemned the death of a worker in Mansoura Espania Company called Mariam Hawas and the injury of seven of her colleagues who were hit by a car during a protest outside a bank in Cairo.
"CTUWS urges the Egyptian government and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to reconsider the implications of this law, calling for an organized national dialogue that includes political forces, civil society organizations, labor and business representatives to discuss current challenges." the statement read. –Additional reporting by AFP.