The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi launched his crackdown on human rights immediately after the military coup in which he took power. Since 2013, thousands of prisoners, many of whom were arrested for attending protests, have been sentenced to death, often in mass trials, sometimes hundreds at a time. Two laws have made all this possible – the Protest Law and the Assembly Law.
In July 2013, thousands of people took to Egypt’s streets to protest the deposal of President Mohamed Morsi and to call for his reinstatement. Siri, the man who seized power, responded with extreme force, embarking on a campaign to crush dissent that continues to this day. The state has implemented a series of measures designed specifically to suppress political opposition, justifying them as necessary for the security and stability of the nation. This crackdown has been marked by arbitrary arrests, indefinite detention, torture, mass trials and an increasing use of the death penalty.
Watch: Irish student Ibrahim Halawa discusses his experience of Egyptian prisons, where he spent over four years facing a death sentence for attending a protest.
An ornate legal framework has been developed to facilitate this crackdown. One of Sisi’s chief legislative initiatives in this regard has been “the Protest Law” – decree Law 107/2013 issued in November 2013 by then-interim President Adly Mansour.
The Protest Law restricts Egyptians’ right to protest peacefully, requiring all demonstrations involving more than ten people to receive pre-approval from local police. The law grants police broad discretion to ban demonstrations on the vague basis that they represent threats to “security, peace and public order or may influence the course of justice,” without providing evidence to justify such claims.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has described this law as a tool used by authorities “to crack down on virtually all forms of assembly and association in Egypt” and “contrary to international law.”
The Protest Law has allowed the government to arrest thousands of people—often hundreds at a time—simply for being in the vicinity of any gathering that police have deemed unlawful. But the Protest Law itself is primarily a means for justifying initial arrests, rather than bringing serious charges that could carry the death penalty or life imprisonment – for that, the Sisi regime has turned to Law 10/1914, also known as “the Assembly Law.”
The Assembly Law’s importance lies in the fact that it enshrines the concept of collective liability, allowing the state to hold any individual accused of attending a protest deemed illegal under the Protest Law jointly liable for any ‘criminal act’ that supposedly arises. This is a key element in the Egyptian government’s crackdown – it allows the state to charge hundreds of people with a single serious offence, try them all at the same time for ‘crimes’ that may carry a death sentence.