Just three days after Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency and one day after the country’s legislature approved a number of amendments expanding temporary and administrative detention, Alexandria-based rights lawyer Mohamed Ramadan became the latest victim of the country’s Counter-terrorism Law, Law №94 of 2015.
Ramadan was sentenced in absentia over his personal Facebook posts to ten years in prison on accusations of insulting the president, misusing social media, and inciting violence. He was also slammed with an additional five-year house arrest and a ban on social media for the same length of time.
Ratified by Sisi in August 2015 as a response to the assassination of then-Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat, the Counter-terrorism Law was reportedly passed to prosecute those perpetrating acts of violence. However, the law’s broad and vague definition for what would constitute a “terrorist act,” referenced “disturbing the public order, putting the security and interests of society at threat, harming individuals…violating national unity, social peace, and national security… or impeding the implementation of the Constitution” — all phrases which could be used to prosecute an individual who perpetrated an assassination attempt on a government official, but could conceivably and just as likely be used to sentence and jail an activist who was posting social media statuses calling for peaceful anti-government protests. Among a slew of problematic provisions, the law interestingly also added a number of new crimes, among them incitement on social media; it also authorized the court to impose measures in addition to jail time, including the deportation of foreigners, the order of house arrest, the prohibition of work in specific activities, and a ban on certain means of communication.
It is thus unfortunately no surprise that rather than target terrorists who threaten the security and safety of all Egyptians in the wake of the horrendous twin Palm Sunday bombings, among the first applications of the country’s Counter-terrorism Law in the wake of the attacks is used to instead target a well-respected rights lawyer with an expansive history of representing human rights defenders.
Ramadan’s sentence is also unfortunately indicative of what is likely to be an escalated, legalized, and normalized crackdown on dissidents, activists, and civil society workers under the guise of fighting terrorism. With existing legislation in the form of the Counter-terrorism Law, the Terrorist Entities Law, and provisions of the Penal Code, among others; practices like emergency trials without appeal and administrative detentions without charge; and promises of additional legislation to push alleged “terrorists” through the justice system in a quicker process, all under the guise of fighting terrorism, there is no doubt that while Ramadan’s sentence is especially egregious, it will not be the last.