CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s parliament on Sunday overwhelmingly endorsed a controversial anti-terrorism law that sets up special courts and shields its enforcers from legal ramifications.
The law is one of roughly 400 that were issued by executive decree during the more than three years in which Egypt was governed without a parliament after its democratically elected chamber was dissolved in mid-2012.
It details sentences for various terrorism-related crimes ranging from five years to the death penalty, and shields the military and police from legal penalties for what it calls proportionate use of force.
The law also fines journalists for contradicting the authorities’ version of any militant attack. The original draft was amended last year following a domestic and international outcry after it initially stipulated imprisonment for such an offence.
The newly elected legislature is constitutionally obliged to review the executive decrees within 15 days of its first session, which was on Jan. 10, and either approve or reject them.
The anti-terrorism law passed by an overwhelming 457 votes to 24 without a single amendment to the original decree issued by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last year, parliamentary sources said.
Egypt’s new parliament, which has 568 elected members plus another 28 appointed directly by the president, is dominated by the “Support Egypt” coalition, an alliance of over 400 MPs loyal to Sisi.
Human rights groups accuse Sisi, who as military chief deposed a freely elected Islamist president in 2013, of rolling back freedoms won in the 2011 uprising that toppled veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Opposition legislator Mohamed Salah Khalifa, a leader of the Islamist Nour Party, which holds just 12 seats after controlling about a quarter of the previous parliament, said the law employed ambiguous wording.
“I fear that it will be used broadly when it is applied,” he said.
“The (anti-terrorism) law was imposed during exceptional circumstances when the country was exposed to danger but, after these dangers subside, there should be a balance between protecting the state and its institutions and preserving human rights.”
Parliament also approved a 2014 decree on the protection of critical government facilities. The law increases the jurisdiction of military courts, allowing them to try civilians accused of attacking buildings and cutting off roads.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, is confronted by an increasingly violent insurgency in North Sinai, where the most active militant group has pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Cairo and other cities have also suffered Islamist attacks.
Sisi has presided over a no-holds-barred crackdown on Islamists. Thousands of alleged Islamist supporters have been jailed and scores have been sentenced to death.
Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Kevin Liffey