Mursi followers call for action as Egypt considers "draconian" law on protests

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Egyptian students of al-Azhar university run for cover from a tear gas canister fired by riot police during clashes outside their university campus in Cairo on October 20, 2013 following an anti-army protest. (Photo: AFP - Khaled Desouki)

Published Thursday, October 24, 2013

An Islamist alliance backing Mohammed Mursi on Thursday urged its supporters to protest on November 4 when the ousted president will be put on trial.

Mursi – held at an unknown location since the military ousted him on July 3 – and 14 others have been charged in the killing of protesters outside his palace in December 2012.

Meanwhile, 17 prominent Egyptian rights groups on Thursday criticized a draft bill regulating protests, slamming the "draconian restrictions" they say will stifle freedoms won in the 2011 uprising.

The Anti-Coup Alliance "notes that the coup organizers would like to break the people's and the revolution's will" by trying Mursi and the others, the alliance led by Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood said.

"The alliance also calls on all free people in Egypt and abroad to stand by the revolutionary will opposing the military coup, and that all activities should be as they always have been – within peaceful bounds that define our methods and strategy."

Mursi's trial is expected to raise fresh tensions between the new army-installed authorities and his supporters, who have mounted numerous protests against the military and its chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

A proposed law, which was drafted by the justice ministry this month and is under review by the cabinet, gives authorities sweeping powers and control over protests and strikes.

Rights groups, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, have criticized the law as being "repressive."

The bill "not only puts draconian restrictions on the right to demonstrate, but imposes other curbs on the right to public meetings, strikes, sit-ins and processions, thus utterly stifling the freedom of Egyptians to engage in all forms of peaceful assembly," the groups said in a joint statement.

Under the draft, security forces can attend or disperse any meeting on several grounds including the vague "threatening public order", and obstructing traffic, the groups said.

The law places "only vague curbs on security personnel's use of excessive force, disproportionate to the actions that might be committed by demonstrators. It permits security forces to use rubber bullets without restriction, although this ammunition can be lethal," they said.

Those who violate the law can face up to five years in prison. The law also carries a sentence of up to three years for anyone wearing a mask or face cover during a meeting or demonstration.

The rights groups say the problem has not been with the legal framework for demonstrations, but rather with the way in which security forces have engaged with demonstrators.

"The demonstrations and strikes ongoing in Egyptian squares for several years have political, social and economic roots. They thus require political, social and economic solutions, not security approaches or more repressive legislation," the rights groups said.

On October 6, at least 57 people were killed nationwide, mostly in Cairo, when security forces clashed with Mursi supporters clashed as they tried to reach Tahrir Square, epicenter of the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Security forces have been engaged in a sweeping crackdown since breaking up two pro-Mursi sit-ins in Cairo on August 14.

More than 1,000 people have been killed since then, and over 2,000 Islamists – including Mursi and several top Muslim Brotherhood leaders – have been detained across the country.

Prosecutors have charged Mursi with "inciting his supporters to commit premeditated murder" during December 5 clashes outside his palace.

The December fighting erupted when Muslim Brotherhood supporters dispersed a sit-in outside the palace by people angered over Mursi issuing a decree placing his decisions beyond judicial review. At least seven people were killed.

The Brotherhood claimed that most of those killed were Islamists, an assertion disputed by its opponents. At least one of the victims was an anti-Mursi journalist.

Mursi and the co-defendants will stand trial before a Cairo district court.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)


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