Journalists, Dissenters Targets of Egypt's Draconian 'Anti-Terror' Law

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pictured in Cairo on April 23, 2015. (Photo: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

Journalists, Dissenters Targets of Egypt's Draconian 'Anti-Terror' Law

President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, who already rules by decree, further tightens grip on power with sweeping new legislation

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday officially signed into law sweeping new "anti-terrorism" legislation that dramatically expands his powers to impose the death penalty, crack down on dissent, and stamp out journalism that the government deems to be "false."

The law was passed over widespread opposition, including protests from the Egyptian Press Syndicate, whose members say the legislation poses a threat to what's left of free media in the country. Al Sisi, who already rules by decree amid a suspended parliament, fast-tracked the rule following the late-June killing of state prosecutor Hisham Barakat in a car bombing and a subsequent wave of violence in the North Sinai Peninsula.

The legislation allows authorities to impose the death penalty for anyone the government deems to be leading a "terrorist" group and increases the power of officials to arrest and interrogate suspects. It also buffers Egyptian authorities, including soldiers and police officers, from legal consequences for use of force.

One article gives the president the authority, pending approval from the non-active parliament, to impose curfews and isolation on areas of the country for up to six months.

The law also bans journalists from providing information about militant attacks that diverges from the government account, under penalty of steep fines. In addition, while not explicitly mentioning journalism, the rule allows the courts to "prevent the convicted from practicing the profession for a period of no more than one year, if the crime violates the principles of the profession."

At least 18 journalists are already incarcerated in Egypt on charges that include "broadcasting false information," according to Amnesty International.

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The rule follows another law passed in February that grants the government broad powers to break up protests. It comes amid an escalating crisis of government killings, torture, and jailing of its critics. Friday was the two year anniversary of a massacre in Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in which up to 1,000 sit-in protesters were killed by Egyptian security forces. Al Sisi was in charge of the army at the time, and no one has been held accountable for the mass killing.

"One of the key reasons the Egyptian people took to the streets in 2011 was to abolish the 30-year-long state of emergency imposed by Hosni Mubarak," declared Said Boumedouha, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International, in a statement released ahead of the legislation's passage. "Granting the current President similar absolute powers is a deadly blow to human rights in Egypt."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently pledged that Egypt's human rights abuses will not get in the way of increased aid, arms, and military "cooperation."

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