Egypt protest ban violates international law: HRW

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Friday condemned [press release] a ban on strikes and inciting protests [JURIST report] in Egypt as a violation of international law. Upon ratification by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [NYT backgrounder], the proposed law will impose prison sentences and fines for strike actions and inciting protests that would negatively impact the economy. HRW alleged that the proposed law is overbroad and vague and violates international law because it does not meet the “narrowly permitted grounds for limits on public assembly under international law” and its references to “national security” and “public safety” do not refer to situations involving an immediate and violent threat. HRW also cited the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) [texts, PDF], stating that as a state party, Egypt must respect the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. HRW criticized the law as a hindrance to democracy, “betray[ing] … the demands of Tahrir protesters.”

Concerns about the economy or the security situation are no justification for repressive laws and no substitute for responsible policing and sound economic policies. Economic difficulties are no excuse for limiting people’s rights. … The provisions of this law criminalizing demonstrations that disrupt public works or harm societal peace are as overly broad and open to abuse as the restrictions in place under the Mubarak government. It’s quite shocking, really, that a transitional government meant to replace a government ousted for its failure to respect free speech and assembly is now itself putting new restrictions on free speech and assembly.

In order to show their respect for human rights, HRW recommended that the cabinet and military council reverse the ban, issue a public statement regarding the right to peaceful strikes and demonstrations, and end the country’s state of emergency [JURIST news archive], which has been ongoing since 1981.

In February, the military council pledged to lift the emergency laws [JURIST report] once circumstances in the country improved. The council also vowed to have a peaceful transition to power and promised not to prosecute “honourable people who refused corruption and demanded for reform.” Last week, a majority of Egyptian citizens voted to approve constitutional reforms [JURIST report], including parliamentary elections within the next six months. The council took over control of the country after former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile] was forced to step down following nearly three weeks of demonstrations protesting the Egyptian government and calling for his resignation. During the three weeks of protests leading up to Mubarak’s resignation, nearly 400 people were killed and 5,500 were wounded.

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