25 Nov 2013

Human rights groups condemn protest law

9:20 pm on 25 November 2013

Human rights groups in Egypt have condemned a new law restricting public protests which has been signed by interim President Adly Mansour.

The final version of the law has yet to be issued, but it reportedly requires permission from the police in advance before protests can be held.

Mass protests have led to the toppling of two presidents in the past three years.

Human rights groups have condemned the new law, which many believe is aimed mainly at supporters of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood and ousted president Mohammed Morsi, the BBC reports.

The law was signed as supporters of Mr Morsi gathered to mark 100 days since security forces broke up sit-ins calling for his reinstatement, when hundreds of people were killed. Mr Morsi and leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood are currently on trial on charges including incitement to the killing of protesters in 2012.

Human rights groups in Egypt rejected the draft law before it was enacted by Mr Mansour.

"The draft law seeks to criminalise all forms of peaceful assembly, including demonstrations and public meetings, and gives the state free hand to disperse peaceful gatherings by use of force," 19 Egyptian organisations said in a statement.

But Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi, speaking to the AFP news agency, said the new law was designed to protect "the right of protesters" and required them to give "notice" rather than seek permission.

Government sources were quoted as saying the legislation had been watered down to require three rather than seven days' notice.

Parliamentary and presidential elections are due to take place next year but human rights groups have accused the military-backed authorities of anti-democratic tendencies.

Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members have been detained since Mr Morsi's overthrow, though the authorities say this is part of combating "terrorism".