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Egypt: Activists and former presidential candidate put on terror list

High-profile activists and a former presidential candidate are among 28 people an Egyptian court placed on a state terror list on Monday, a stifling designation which imposes restrictions for five years.

Abdelmoneim Aboul Fotouh, who ran for the presidency in 2012, and Alaa Abdel Fattah, a leftist activist who has been in and out of detention for years, are two of the most prominent figures reportedly named by the Cairo Criminal Court.

Aboul Fotouh was arrested in 2018 ahead of the last presidential election, and has previously been placed on a terror list.

The 69-year-old has been in pre-trial detention for almost two years, facing charges of “leading and financing a terrorist group”.

Key dates

December 2014: A bill is approved by the cabinet, in the absence of a sitting parliament.

17 February 2015: The law, known as law no. 8 for the year 2015, is ratified by President Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi and published in the official gazette.

January 2016: The law is retroactively approved by parliament.

3 March 2020: Amendments are ratified by Sisi and published in the official gazette.

Consequences of the law

The law allows the public prosecution to name individuals or entities to be designated in a terrorism list.

The designation can be based on a court verdict, or a request by the prosecution.

The request is then referred to a criminal judicial circuit in the Cairo appeals court. A designation is confirmed within seven days.

Those who wish to challenge the designation must do so within 60 days of the decision.

The Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest appeals court, reviews the challenges and makes a decision within seven days.

Those placed on the list can then be banned from travel, have their passports confiscated or cancelled, and have their financial assets frozen.

Human rights groups have condemned vague wording in the law that allows authorities to designate peaceful activists as terrorists.

Broad offences undefined by the law include: “Infringing the public order; endangering the safety, interests, or security of society; obstructing provisions of the constitution and law; or harming national unity, social peace, or national security.”

Amendments 

The latest amendments to the law were ratified by Sisi and published in the official gazette on 3 March, and  expand the criteria and penalties introduced in the previous version of the law.

For example, they allow authorities to freeze assets without them being linked to terrorism-related activities.

They also bar the designated individuals from membership of any professional or government entities, as well as syndicates, and disqualifies them from any political activity.

The amendments also eliminated any loopholes that were used by the Court of Cassation to reject the designations.

The politician’s family has repeatedly accused authorities of subjecting him to a “slow death”, due to medical negligence and the tough conditions of his solitary confinement at the notorious Tora prison.

Human Rights Watch previously raised concerns over the politician’s detention and deteriorating health.

Abdel Fattah, meanwhile, was one of the leading voices during the 2011 uprising that led to the ousting of then-president Hosni Mubarak.

The 39-year-old was first jailed on charges of protesting without permission in 2013 and had been granted conditional release in March 2019. He was re-arrested later that year from the police station he was forced to sleep in as part of his parole terms.

The designations also include Ahmed Abu Baraka, a Muslim Brotherhood member and former member of parliament who was arrested by security forces in 2013.

His arrest took place following the Rabaa massacre, when hundreds of Egyptians protesting against the 2013 military coup, which ultimately brought Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to power, were slaughtered by security forces.

A number of other activists and political figures were also designated on Monday, including Muhammad al-Qassas, an activist and the deputy head of Egyptian opposition Misr al-Qawia (Egypt Strong) Party, who was arrested in 2018.

Amnesty International called his forced disappearance a brazen attack on the rights to freedom of expression and association in Egypt.

Mohammed al-Baqer, who is also on the list, is a lawyer who was imprisoned for 45 days earlier this year, pending investigations into charges of “spreading false news that would impact the national security of the country”.

Terror list

Sisi’s government began using the terror list in 2015.

Though terrrorists and militants are among those named, the vast majority of people that have been placed on the list are peaceful activists, politicians and human rights lawyers, or simply people related to them.

The process of being placed on the list is both swift and opaque. Public prosecutors propose additions, a court then has seven days to rule on that suggestion, and the person affected then has 60 days to appeal once the decision has been published.

From then, the newly designated terror threat can be handed a travel ban, see their passports confiscated or cancelled, and have their financial assets frozen.

Vaguely worded and broadly open to interpretation, authorities quickly began designating activists and opposition politicians as terrorists, much to the horror of human rights groups.

Offences undefined by the law include: “Infringing the public order; endangering the safety, interests, or security of society; obstructing provisions of the constitution and law; or harming national unity, social peace, or national security.”

Rather than fighting terror, its detractors say, the Egyptian government uses its swelling terrorism list to crush any opposition and independent thought, intimidating critics and their relatives into silence.

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