Egypt’s justice minister defended the highly divisive and controversial new protest law on Sunday, saying that it takes the country’s current climate into consideration and does not need amending.
Justice Minister Adel Abdel Hamid said in a televised interview Sunday evening that the right to protest must be regulated by law, adding that all countries require notification ahead of demonstrations.
“If protests are not regulated, the situation will turn to chaos and assaults on institutions,” the minister said during the interview.
Abdel Hamid claimed that Egypt’s version of the law is even better than its counterparts in the US and UK.
He cited the UK, where demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament require six days prior notification, and the US, where the time of the protest must be specified, state news portal Egynews reported.
After Egypt’s law was passed, however, US officials agreed with rights groups that it does not meet international standards. Similarly, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights described the protest law as “flawed” and urged Egypt to amend or repeal it.
The protest law, approved in late November by interim President Adly Mansour, caused an immediate uproar among activists and rights groups, who have condemned it as highly restrictive.
The law obliges protest organizers to inform the nearest police station of the location, start and end time, goals and demands of a planned rally, as well as the names and contact information of organizers 24 hours in advance. The protest is prohibited from going past the stated end time or from being in the vicinity of places of worship.
One article also empowers the Ministry of Interior to cancel or change the course of the planned protest if it acquires any information suggesting that the organizers could violate any of the law’s stipulations. It also empowers security forces to disperse protests and arrest demonstrators if they “violated the general order.”
Violations of the law can be punished with up to seven years in prison and fines of up to LE300,000.
It has already been used to quell protests and arrest activists.
Tens of protesters demonstrating against the law were arrested after it was passed, leading Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi to initially promise it would be reviewed. Most were later released, but the government has since reneged on this promise, vowing to uphold the protest law in its current form.
A number of prominent activists have been arrested pending investigation into charges of calling for demonstrations against the new law. They also face further accusations of assaulting security forces and inciting violence in events that ensued after their arrest warrants were issued, including clashes outside Abdeen court on November 30.
Activists Alaa Abd El Fattah and Ahmed Douma were among those arrested, as well as Ahmed Maher, leader of the April 6 Youth Movement.
Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights, a quasi-independent state body, said last week that the law would be rendered unconstitutional as soon as the draft constitution is ratified. However, it added that “although the council has some reservations on the protest law, the law needs to be respected.”