Egypt: Draft Law on Internet Terrorism

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Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm (AMAY) has published a transcript of the draft law on combattling terrorism on the internet in Egypt. From what I’ve been told, anti-terror law has been on the table for many years  and the battle against it was that it will inscribe the emergency laws in the criminal code. It seems here that the internet is given a significant attention, at least at the first reading. Whatever the provisions, the draft law aims at legalizing pervasive surveillance and and will be a very convenient tool for jailing bloggers and all kinds of people estimated as junta-noncompliant.

Here are the most notable excerpts after a quick read-through. My comments are in blue.

The draft law contains four chapters: Chapter One is on the general provisions; Chapter Two is on punishment; Chapter Three is on procedural provisions; and Chapter Four deals with international judicial cooperation.

General provisions define what a terrorist is:

A – a terrorist organization: a group consisting of at least three persons aiming at committing one or more crimes of terrorism
B – a terrorist: a person who commits or attempts to commit a terrorist offense by any means, directly or indirectly, or participates in this crime or participates in the activity of a terrorist organization.

Regarding the crimes:

A terrorist act is every use of force or violence, of threats or intimidation with the aim of serious breaches of public order or to endanger the safety of the community or its interests or that poses a security risk.

Follows a list of loads of acts ranging from harming individuals to damaging natural resources or funds or buildings passing through the obstruction of  “public authorities or interests of the government or the local units or diplomatic and consular missions or organizations and regional and international bodies in Egypt to exercise some or all aspects of its activities”. In the acts considered as terrorist is also anything that aims to “prevent or obstruct the establishment of houses of worship or institutions, and science institutes to work”. Curious. The laundry list of acts that are considered as terrorist continues with acts that “would harm communications or informaton or financial systems or banking, or the national economy or stock power or stock security of goods and food, water”. Will an incompetent traider be considered as a terrorist?

The provisions of this draft law will also apply to people committing terrorist acts outside of the country “if the crime was commited on any mode of transportation, land, water, or flight registered in Egypt or carries its flag” and if the offender is a foreigner (i.e., non Egyptian born) and happens to be in Egypt for some reason (different from being in Egypt to face justice). An explanation about the latter, as a friend put it: “so someone say bombs Egyptian embassy in Jakarta then spends a vacation in Sharm el-Sheikh because he is too stupid .. he will be arrested and charged with terrorism”. Are you on Egyptian territory if you are in a flight operated by an Egyptian company?

Then comes the lovely bit about punishments. If you have taken the leadership of a terrorist organization or fomenting a terrorist act, you may very well encur death penalty. If you have “just” participated to demostrated terrorist activities, you go to jail. If your terrorist act has caused someone’s death, whatever your role in the organization was, the sentence is death. There are details regarding life sentence or how people having provided funds to such an organization will be treated. Interestingly, there is a provision regarding foreign activities:

Is punishable by life imprisonment if cooperation with a foreign country or the association or body or organization, group or gang based outside Egypt, or the one who are working for the benefit of this state or any of the actors mentioned (…) to carry out any terrorist act inside or outside Egypt or against any of its citizens or interests, property or premises and offices of diplomatic/consular missions or any of its affiliates abroad.

They’ll finally be able to handle all these foreign hands with their foreign agendas seeding chaos in the country.

Important here appear to be Articles 27 and 28:

1. Article 27 establishes that will be punished with at least five years of imprisonment, “all of the established websites that have been found to promote ideas or beliefs calling for the use of force or violence or broadcasting with the goal to mislead the security authorities, the judicial authorities regarding the crimes of terrorism, or to exchange messages and issue assignments between terrorist groups or organizations or any such affiliated to them”.

2. Article 28 of the bill introduces the possibility to withhold or block websites if used in a “terrorist acts”. Indeed, it poses that will be “punished by law whoever uses a site from these mentioned in art. 27 and in any of the cases it specifies. It’s also possible with a decision from a specific prosecution to stop the sites mentioned or to block them or to block its contents or [to block] any type of use mentioned in that article”. In other words, anything that can be claimed to be promoting terrorist activities may be blocked or taken down completely.

The Chapters Three and Four are too technical and not that relevant.

All in all, there seem to be very little mention about how blocking, take-downs or suchlikes will be operated. There is actually very little mention of the internet at all. But there is a very clear mention of the fact that this draft law — warmly brought to you by the Ministry of Interior — is just a Trojan that aims at inscribing more and more arbitrary repression in Egypt’s legislation.