Egypt’s Law 71: An unconstitutional step designed to expand the state’s grip on information
The undersigned organizations condemn Egypt’s issuing of Law No. 71 of 2021, amending some provisions of the Penal Code, published in the Official Gazette on June 13, 2021, as yet another step in the state’s systematic attempts to obliterate truth and control information.
The law is another example of the insistence of authorities in Egypt on confiscating basic rights, including the right to public court sessions and the ensuing right to know, through repressive laws that aim to obscure the facts and expand the authorities’ exclusive ownership and selective dissemination of information.
Law 71 amended some provisions of the Penal Code and added a new article that would impose a financial penalty between EGP100,000 and 300,000 for anyone who photographs, records words, clips, broadcasts, publishes, or publicly displays the proceedings of a court session devoted to examining a criminal case, without the permission of the president of the court, and taking the opinion of the Public Prosecution. Rather, the amendment gave the court the right to confiscate devices used in filming, recording, or broadcasting, or to erase their content and destroy them.
The law violates the constitutional provision in Article 187 which stipulates that “court sessions are public, unless the court decides their secrecy in consideration of public order or morals, and in all cases the verdict shall be pronounced in a public session.” In addition, “public sessions” is a general principle that is applicable to all types of trials, whether in civil, criminal or administrative cases. The rulings of the higher courts in this regard have established that the norm for the sessions is to be public and that the pleadings are to be conducted in public. All the laws of the judicial authority have included an explicit affirmation of this principle. The Judicial Authority Law (Article 18), the Civil and Commercial Procedures Law (Article 101), and the Code of Criminal Procedure (Article 268).
The organizations believe that the issuance of such a law restricts and violates the constitutional text of the public nature of courts, which the legislator has made available to all without the permission of the head of the court or the Public Prosecution. Within the framework of this public nature and with technological advances, the sessions are broadcast live at the time of their occurrence from inside the courts, so the principle of publicity has been extended to all, not only those in the courtroom, and the live broadcast is carried out without registration or subsequent intervention. The organizations also denounce the issuance of such a law at a time when hundreds of cases of a political nature are being considered, with unfair sentences against the opposition amounting to the death penalty, in trials that lack the minimum standards of due process and guarantees of international justice.
This law aims to legalize the continuation of such unfair trials, and to withhold knowledge of the violations, especially since the authorities in Egypt deliberately – and even legally- legitimize withholding information from the local and international community, especially legal and human rights violations occurring inside the courts. In addition, the confiscation of the right to know is a common practice in dictatorial societies that deliberately resort to repression in the name of the law, in a way that undermines confidence in the justice system and threatens the conduct of criminal trial procedures.The undersigned organizations call for halting the implementation of Law 71 of 2021 and its abolition over its violation of the provisions of the constitution and international human rights principles stipulated in international charters and treaties, which Egypt has ratified and committed to uphold before the international community. We also stress the need to safeguard the right to know what is happening inside courtrooms in Egypt for all those interested.
1- Committee for Justice
2- Belady Center Rights and Freedoms
3- The Freedom Initiative
4- El Nadeem Centre for Torture Victims
5- Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
6- Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
7- Cairo institute for Human Rights Studies
8- Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression