Human Rights Watch wants abusive Egyptian laws scrapped

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday urged Egypt’s new Parliament to scrap laws dating from the Hosni Mubarak regime that curb freedoms and “shield” official abuse.

“Egypt’s newly elected Parliament should urgently reform the arsenal of laws used by the Mubarak government to restrict freedoms,” the watchdog said in a report released just days before Parliament is due to hold its first session.

“These laws were used to curb free expression and criticism of government, limit association and assembly, detain people indefinitely without charge and shield an abusive police force from accountability,” HRW said in a statement.

Egypt has just wrapped marathon legislative elections for a lower house and Parliament is due to hold its first session on January 23 — two days before the country marks the first anniversary of the uprising that ousted Mubarak.

Islamists won a crushing victory in the polls and are estimated to have clinched 70% of seats in Parliament, which comprises 498 elected deputies and 10 appointed by the military ruling Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster.

Official results for the lower house polls are due later this week and once elections for an upper house are concluded in February, Parliament will then choose a 100-member panel to draft a new Constitution.

Transitional roadmap
A new president is then to be elected by June under the timetable set by the military rulers who announced that candidates can register for the presidency from April 15.

The military rulers have pledged to cede full powers to an elected civilian body as part of the transitional roadmap but there is widespread concern they will renege on their promise.

“Egypt’s stalled transition can be revived only if the new Parliament dismantles Egypt’s repressive legal framework, the toolbox the government has relied on for decades to silence journalists, punish political opponents, and stifle civil society,” said HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.

“Egypt’s new political parties need to live up to the promises of the Egyptian uprising by ensuring that no government can ever again trample on the rights of the Egyptian people,” she said.

The HRW report, The Road Ahead: A Human Rights Agenda for Egypt’s New Parliament, identifies nine sectors that need urgent reform — namely the penal code, associations law, assembly law and the despised emergency law.

The report took to task Egypt’s military rulers, saying they failed to keep a pledge to reform the laws and “relied on them to arrest protesters and journalists and to try over 12 000 civilians before military courts”.

It specifically mentioned the 30-year-old emergency law, saying the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces expended in September the scope of its application since taking over from Mubarak. — AFP

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