Egyptian emergency law partially suspended

Story highlights

  • Military council's leader announces partial suspension of emergency law
  • But opposition figures say suspension does not go far enough
  • The suspension and release of an imprisoned blogger are seen as efforts to appease protesters
  • Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary since the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime
The head of Egypt's ruling military council said Tuesday he will partially suspend an unpopular and wide-ranging emergency law that became a focal point for demonstrations forcing the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak a year ago.
But an opposition leader called the move by Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Marshall Hussein Tantawi little more than "a farce" designed to appease protesters ahead of the one-year anniversary Wednesday.
"That is what they did when they said they will suspend military tribunals except in the case of thugs, and they ended up arresting political activists," said Rami Shath, a member of the Egyptian Revolutionary Alliance.
The emergency law allows authorities broad leeway to arrest citizens and hold them indefinitely without charges, according to Human Rights Watch. It was first enacted in 1958. Although it was suspended during the rule of slain President Anwar Al Sadat, it has been in place since Mubarak took power in 1981, according to the group.
Abolishing the emergency law was on top of the lists of demands announced by pro-democracy protesters during the 2011 uprising.
But the suspension announced Tuesday does not include crimes committed by "thugs" who commit acts of violence against citizens or use weapons to destroy public and government property, according to Maj. Alaa Iraqi, an armed forces spokesman.
Adel Saeed, spokesman for the general prosecutor's office, confirmed that police would still have the right to "arrest thugs terrorizing citizens without a warrant with the authority to transfer them to the State Security Emergency Court under the law which does not allow the assailants an appeal."
The Egyptian Revolutionary Alliance's Shath said the reversal does not go far enough.
"If he is honest, they should suspend it for everyone," Shath said of Tantawi. "Even thugs have the right to appeal like anyone else and which policeman is trusted to arrest someone without a warrant with claims of thuggery."
In addition to rolling back the law, the government pardoned prisoners held under the law on Sunday in move widely seen as one of several concessions to protesters expected to take to the streets to mark the uprising's first anniversary.
Among the released political prisoners is Maikel Nabil Sanad, a Coptic Christian blogger who was serving a two-year sentence for defaming the military in his blogs.
Sanad was arrested March 28 on charges of "insulting the military establishment and spreading false information about the military." He had accused the military of conducting virginity tests on female protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, a charge that a senior military general later admitted was true.
Sanad said he was beaten and subjected to other mistreatment at the hands of military officials before being moved to a civilian prison.
Sanad's arrest gained international attention, with Amnesty International calling him a "prisoner of conscience" and joining other human rights groups in accusing the country's interim military rulers of continuing abuses commonplace under Mubarak's rule.
A picture posted to Twitter on Tuesday by Sanad's brother, Mark, shows Sanad flashing a victory sign after his release.