Thursday, May 13, 2010

Egypt emergency law linked to poll abuse

Rights groups warn Egyptian emergency law may be used to influence outcome of elections.
CAIRO - Egyptian human rights groups on Thursday protested over the renewal of a decades-old emergency law, fearing it could be used to influence the outcome of elections in Egypt over the next two years.

The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights and the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary, in a joint news conference, condemned parliament’s renewal of the law in a government-backed vote on Wednesday.

Non-governmental organisations “fear that the (two-year) renewal… was decided so as to be used during the elections” for parliament later this year and in a 2011 presidential poll, said the rights group’s Hafez Abu Saada.

Nasser Amin of the Arab Centre said the government had “retained all the measures allowing the executive to restrain” demonstrations and to carry out arrests on the basis of suspicion alone.

Some 10,000 people, most of them Islamic activists but also secular opposition figures, are being held under the terms of the emergency legislation in force since president Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981, said Abu Saada.

Thirteen other NGOs, in a joint statement, voiced alarm over the renewal, despite pledges that the new state of emergency would be limited to the fight against terrorism and its financing and to combat drug-related crimes.

“In practical terms, this means more emergency in Egypt, more arrests, more restrictions on liberties and more obstruction of the law and constitution,” they warned.

“We believe there is a clear connection” between the renewal of the emergency law “and the series of elections slated in the country over the next two years.”

The controversial law, which gives police wide powers of arrest, suspends constitutional rights and curbs non-governmental political activity, was backed by a majority of MPs in Egypt’s 454-member parliament.

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