Egypt issues controversial law on protests

Rights groups say new legislation curbs the rights of citizens to protest peacefully

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Egypt’s interim president signed into law on Sunday a bill that rights groups have said sharply curbs the rights of citizens to assemble and protest peacefully.

“The president enacted the law on the regulation of the right to hold public meetings, processions and peaceful demonstrations in public places,” Agence France-Presse quoted presidency spokesman Ehab Badawi as saying in a statement.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi told AFP that the new law protects the rights of protesters.

“It is not a law that limits the right to demonstrate, but it aims at protecting the right of protesters,” Beblawi said.

He said the law does not stipulate that protesters need permission before staging demonstrations, but they must give advance “notice.”

The prime minister said details of the law endorsed will be published later.

The much-anticipated bill has stirred serious criticism from rights and political groups.

When the bill was initially drafted, it required prior notice for protests and set high fines for violators. This had compelled rights groups and political forces to criticize the law as restricting protesters.

Nineteen rights groups said the law, despite some amendments suggested by court, gives police forces unrestricted use of birdshot to put down protests.

A government source who asked not to be identified said that changes had been made to an earlier draft bill that was strongly criticized by rights groups.

“It allows (protest) organizers to inform the authorities three days before the event, rather than the earlier seven days,” the source told AFP.

Other details of the law were still unknown, but Egyptian rights groups had earlier slammed the draft prepared by the justice ministry last month.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in clashes during protests held by supporters of the Islamist toppled President Mohammed Mursi.

On Sunday, backers of Mursi again staged protests in Cairo and elsewhere.

The protest law, proposed by the military-backed government and debated for more than a month, comes 10 days after authorities lifted a three-month-long emergency order that granted security forces sweeping powers, the Associated Press reported.

(With AFP and AP)