The United Nations human rights office voiced concerns about the draft law on demonstrations approved by the Egyptian Cabinet last week, in particular regarding the type and scope of limitations imposed on the freedom of assembly.
“We regret that the draft law on demonstrations approved by the Cabinet on 13 February does not sufficiently take into account comments submitted by OHCHR and other human rights organizations,” said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
He told a news conference in Geneva that freedom of assembly, which is one of the cornerstones of democracy, can be subject to certain restrictions. However, “freedom should be considered the rule, and restrictions the exception. In its current form, the draft law raises concern with regard to the type and scope of limitations imposed,” he added.
In particular, the draft law imposes criminal sanctions on organizers who fail to comply with legal requirements for organizing an assembly.
It also imposes broad restrictions on public-order grounds and unduly limits the choice of places where assemblies may occur, while giving too much discretion to the Ministry of Interior to object to assemblies.
“No one should be criminalized or subjected to any threats or acts of violence, harassment or persecution for addressing human rights issues through peaceful protests,” stated Mr. Colville.
“We strongly advise that there should be further consideration of the content of the draft law to ensure it complies with international human rights law standards.”
Tens of thousands of people took part in demonstrations last month against President Mohammed Morsi, two years after mass protests toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak and led to a transition period in the country. The recent protests led to the deaths of dozens of people and left more than 1,000 injured.
The incidents led Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to call on Egyptians to remain committed to peaceful dialogue and non-violence as they move forward in their democratic transition.