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Egypt approves contentious law to ban protests

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CAIRO (AFP) – Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour approved a controversial law Sunday that regulates demonstrations and gives authorities the power to ban protests deemed a “threat” to national security, officials said.

The law also says protesters can be jailed for up to five years if found guilty of offences ranging from covering their faces to carrying weapons while participating in demonstrations, presidency spokesman Ehab Badawi told reporters.

Egypt’s military justified its July 3 overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi by saying it was responding to massive protests against his turbulent year-long rule.

But Egyptian rights groups said during the drafting of the bill that it would “criminalise all forms of peaceful assembly” and give authorities a “free hand” to forcibly disperse demonstrators.

Interim prime minister Hazem Beblawi, of the military-installed government, defended the measure in an interview with AFP, saying: “It is not a law that limits the right to demonstrate, but it aims at protecting the right of protesters.”

Presidency spokesman Badawi said protesters must give “three day written notice” to a police station near to where the demonstration is to be held.

He said it also bans demonstrations “at places of worship” or starting from such places.

The advance notice would need to include details about the organisers of the demonstration, its purpose and what slogans will be chanted, he added.

Badawi said the authorities have the right to prohibit a demonstration “if it is felt to be a threat to national security.”

But he said security forces must first verbally warn protesters at prohibited demonstrations to disperse before using water cannon or tear gas, and should only gradually escalate to the firing of birdshot if other means fail.

Rights groups had strongly criticised earlier drafts of the law.

“The draft law seeks to criminalise all forms of peaceful assembly, including demonstrations and public meetings, and gives the state (a) free hand to disperse peaceful gatherings by use of force,” a group of 19 Egyptian rights groups said in a joint statement on Sunday before the law was given the green light.

Egypt’s new military-installed authorities are engaged in a sweeping crackdown on Islamist supporters of Morsi, who regularly stage protests demanding the reinstatement of the country’s first freely elected leader.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in clashes during pro-Morsi protests, mainly supporters of the ousted leader.

On August 14, at least 627 people were killed when security forces broke up a massive pro-Morsi sit-in in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya square. It was the deadliest mass killing in Egypt’s modern history.

On Sunday, backers of the ousted president again staged protests in Cairo and elsewhere.

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