World Bulletin / News Desk
Rights activists on Wednesday voiced anger over fresh amendments to Egypt's penal code – approved by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi – which toughen penalties for anyone found to be receiving funds from foreign entities with the aim of "harming Egypt's security and national interests."
Activists said the amendments contain "vague" language that could leave anyone accused of receiving funds from foreign countries or organizations vulnerable to a possible death sentence.
"A person can only be sentenced to death for committing premeditated murder," Mohamed Munib, director of the African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, a Cairo-based NGO, told Anadolu Agency.
"[The death penalty] cannot be applied to people for receiving funds from abroad," he said.
The amendments, which were made to Article 78 of the Egyptian Penal Code, toughen penalties for individuals who receive funds – or arms – from foreign countries or organizations with the aim of harming Egypt's security.
According to the new amendments, anyone found guilty of the "crime" can be sentenced to life in prison and fined up to 500,000 Egyptian pounds (roughly $70,000).
Contentiously, the crime can now carry the death penalty if committed during wartime – or for purposes of "terrorism" – or if committed by civil servants or members of parliament.
Munib expects Egypt's parliament – once it is elected later this year – to reconsider the amendments in its first session.
Egypt currently has no parliament. Last year, the elected assembly was dissolved by the army to coincide with the ouster of elected president Mohamed Morsi.
Earlier this week, al-Sisi said that parliamentary polls would be held by the end of the year.
Ahmed Mefreh, who is responsible for the Egypt file at the Al-Karama Foundation, a Geneva-based NGO, warned that the amendments opened the door to criminalizing the activities of civil society organizations.
"These amendments increase the fears of civil society," Mefreh said in a statement. "They aim to make civil society more submissive to the authorities and security agencies."
He said the activities of NGOs and human rights groups in Egypt fell within the area effectively banned by the amendments.
The amendments also contain vague terms and lack specific definitions, Mefreh said, which will serve to jeopardize freedoms in Egypt.
Ahmed Osama, director of the Al-Karma Center for Human Development, a Cairo-based NGO, agreed. He said the phrasing of the amendments made the categorization of crimes subject to investigators' assessments.
"Laws must be phrased in a clear-cut manner," Osama said in a statement.
Nevertheless, others back the amendments, describing them as "timely."
Mohamed Kobeish, dean of Cairo University's law faculty, said the amendments toughened penalties in order to deter people from harming Egypt's interests.Last Mod: 25 Eylül 2014, 09:34