Egypt moves toward toughening up draconian anti-terror law

FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2016 file photo provided by Egypt's state news agency MENA, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, addresses parliament in Cairo, Egypt. On Monday Feb. 10, 2020, the state-run news agency said Egypt’s legislature gave its initial approval for toughening up already draconian anti-terrorism laws, with amendments that include life sentences and capital punishment for funding terrorism. (MENA via AP, File)
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Egypt’s legislature on Monday gave its initial approval for toughening up already draconian anti-terrorism laws, with amendments that include life sentences and capital punishment for funding terrorism, the state-run news agency said.

The sweeping anti-terrorism law was enacted in August 2015. It established an extremely broad definition of terrorism, describing it in one article as any act that disturbs public order with force. Some charges, such as leading or organizing a terrorist group, carry the death penalty.

The law and the amendments are widely seen as part of an unprecedented crackdown on dissent waged by President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi since coming to power in 2013.

The original anti-terrorism law also included provisions to protect Egyptian security forces from prosecution, establish stiffer prison sentences for terror-related offences, as well as heavy fines for those who publish “false news” and a special judicial circuit for terrorism cases.

Journalists who do not toe the government line could be punished under the law.

The new amendments expand the definition for the crime of funding terrorist acts. These would now include providing a place for training one terrorist or more; giving them weapons or documents in any way or form; offering support and financing in order to help terrorists travel, even if the provider does not have a direct link to the terrorist crime.

The amendments are being sent to Egypt’s State Council for its review. A final parliamentary vote will likely then send it to President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to ratify.

The amendments also tack on life sentences and the death penalty for a range of crimes related to funding terrorist attacks or terrorist-designated groups, said Bahaa Abu Shakq, head of the Parliament’s constitutional and legislative affairs committee.

The law already gives heavy prison sentences for crimes that include promoting or encouraging any “terrorist offense.” These can extend to damaging state institutions or infrastructure, such as military or government buildings, power and gas lines, and archaeological sites.

The original 2015 law prompted concern from Egyptian lawyers, rights groups, and even some politicians and senior judges.

Egypt has been fighting for years an insurgency centered in the northern part of Sinai Peninsula and led by a local affiliate of the Islamic State group. Militant attacks have targeted the Egyptian military there and spilled out into the Nile Valley as well.

The IS affiliate on Monday claimed an attack on a military checkpoint in the town of Sheikh Zuweid in northern Sinai that killed seven troops and wounded 10 more. A statement from the group’s media arm Amaq said that the previous day’s attack was carried out by four suicide bombers.

The Egyptian military said its forces killed at least 10 militants while repelling the assault.