Century-old assembly law challenged before court

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The Administrative Court at the State Council held on Tuesday the first session to look into a lawsuit filed by human rights defenders to repeal an outdated assembly law. The case was postponed to 23 May.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) triggered the issue back in January 2017, after finding out that an assembly law dating back to Egypt’s colonial times and annulled by the parliament in the late 1920s continues to be enforced in courts, resulting in mass sentences in several protest cases.

CIHRS programme director Mohamed Zarea told Daily News Egypt prior to Tuesday’s session that the problem is that the annulment of the law was not published in the state’s official paper, the Official Gazette—a requirement for laws to be enforced.

The parliament had been dissolved, but there were also no records found of a veto to the annulment by the king back then.

“This means that the annulment law has been passed, but without letting the public know, which should prevent its implementation. The judicial system continues to use it, and it is through this law that most protest cases were operated until now, not the Protest Law issued in 2013,” he said. It has also been used to maximise penalties, according to him.

Zarea explained that the recent Protest Law replaced a former one, but did not annul the law 10/1914 (known as the Assembly Law), and that it was derived from it. A major difference between the two laws pointed out by Zarea lies in the method of penalisation.

The preamble of the Assembly Law justifies its issuance, in view of the necessity to swiftly create a penalty (which would be more effective than current provisions) for crimes committed en masse, CIHRS’ study on the Assembly Law titled “Towards the Emancipation of Egypt” explained.

Zarea argued that this means that in case of any crimes committed during a public assembly, such as a protest, the responsibility would fall on all participants in the assembly—hence the collective death penalties issued after 30 June 2013 on charges of murder and violence.

CIHRS collected in its report a series of documents, including telegrams from British officials, from the parliament session in which the law was annulled, and other correspondence between Egyptian and foreign officials.

Four political parties and 22 NGOs have joined CIHRS’ demand for the law to be abolished.

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