Friday, April 4, 2008

Egypt criminalises protests in places of worship

"CAIRO • Egypt’s parliament passed a law on Wednesday that criminalises holding protests in places of worship, a move opponents said was a bid to place further limits on free expression.

The law mandates jail sentences of up to one year and fines as punishment for anyone found guilty of inciting, participating or organising such a protest.

Speaker of parliament Fathi Surour said the law was passed by a majority of the ruling National Democratic Party-dominated parliament. He said 59 lawmakers had submitted a bill protesting the draft, citing it was a violation of the constitution in that it “restrains liberties and the freedom of expression”.

Members of parliament from the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s most powerful opposition group and which controls a fifth of the seats in parliament, opposed the law.

The government has touted the law as a bid to protect the sanctity of places of worship. In practice such places, especially mosques, are among the only venues protestors can assemble without incurring swift, sometimes violent police intervention, as protests are illegal without government approval. Such approval is granted only on very rare occasions and usually only to government-backed or -sponsored demonstrations.......

A member of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, Mohamed el-Beltagui said the law was part of a raft of laws “to jail political opponents, gag mouths and constrain liberties.” ....."

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