The new Witness Protection Law lacks the necessary criteria to provide real protection to the witnesses and whistle blowers who help put criminals and corrupt officials behind bars, human rights defenders said on Thursday.
Interim Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi’s Cabinet passed the law on Wednesday, saying the bill would protect litigators, witnesses and experts working on legal cases from intimidation or harm. The law would also guarantee restitution to people harmed for assisting the prosecution in such cases, according to the Cabinet.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) issued a statement on Thursday claiming that the bill was almost identical to one that was proposed by the 2011 Parliament, which also did not offer enough protection to witnesses, the group asserted.
An adequate mechanism to protect witnesses is seen as essential to proceed in several ongoing corruption cases against figures from former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Many Mubarak-era men were acquitted from corruption charges due to the lack of evidence and witnesses.
EIPR was unable to obtain the official text of the law, and based its analysis on the draft published by several media outlets.
However, the new law does have one major improvement, EIPR said. Witnesses receiving protection would no longer be sentenced to prison if they were found to be lying, a sentence that had been stipulated in the 2011 bill.
The rights group also reproached the decision to affiliate the witness protection program with the Ministry of Interior (MOI), and demanded that the judiciary oversee the program instead in order to guarantee its independence.
As the MOI is implicated in cases of torture, placing the protection program under its jurisdiction could endanger the witnesses, EIPR warned.
EIPR also suggested widening the scope of the law’s benefactors to include prosecutors, families of witnesses and other groups that could also need protection.
But without a clear action plan to put the law into practice, it may never amount to more than ink and paper, and would then fail to inspire the confidence to induce witnesses to come forward, EIPR’s statement concluded.