Egyptian inquiry seeks changes to protest law

An Egyptian committee investigating political violence made a rare break with judicial support for heavy-handed state tactics

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An Egyptian committee investigating political violence made a rare break on Wednesday with judicial support for heavy-handed state tactics, recommending the government should amend a law restricting protest.

The government-ordered inquiry is investigating acts of violence after the army toppled President Mohammed Mursi in July 2013 and cracked down on his Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

Its report echoed the findings of a government-appointed panel in March, blaming much of the violence at protest sites on the Brotherhood - which maintains it espouses only peaceful methods - while placing some responsibility on the police for disproportionate use of force.

But in an unusual move, the inquiry advocated changes to a law which has been used to imprison many of the leading lights of the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising that forced veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power.

Its report described the law, which restricts the freedom to protest, as flawed, citing “inappropriately heavy punishments,” the interior minister’s right to forbid any peaceful protest, and articles that seemed to violate the constitution.

“There is a need to form a committee of experts to reconsider the law ...” the report read.

The government is not obliged to implement any of the committee’s recommendations, but the report could be used as a basis for future legal cases.

The army killed hundreds in the street and arrested thousands more after Mursi’s overthrow, and since then attacks from a growing Islamist insurgency have killed more than 500 people, mostly police and soldiers, according to government figures.

The committee called for better training to help police manage protests less violently, criticizing the use of live ammunition, and said the government should pay out compensation for victims who were proven not to have taken part in violent acts themselves.