Group Blasts Mubarak’s Anti-Terror Bill

Amnesty International on Saturday urged Egypt’s parliament to reject new constitutional amendments put forward by President Hosni Mubarak, particularly an anti-terror provision that the group called the “greatest erosion of rights in 26 years.”

Parliament is due to vote Sunday on the amendments, which Mubarak’s government, a top U.S. ally in the Mideast, has billed as aimed at boosting democracy. Opposition parties have denounced them as an attempt to ensure Mubarak’s hold on power.

The legislature, dominated by Mubarak’s ruling party, is expected to pass the 34 amendments, which would then be put to a referendum, expected in April.

One of the amendments is meant to replace emergency laws in place since the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, giving security forces sweeping powers to detain suspects and restrict public gatherings.

Under the new proposed amendment, the constitution would empower the president to refer “any terrorist crime to any of the judiciary authorities stated in the constitution or the law.”

The proposal will “enrich the long-standing system of abuse under Egypt’s state of emergency powers and give the misuse of those powers a bogus legitimacy,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program, said in a statement Saturday.

With such powers, the president is likely to “bypass ordinary courts and refer people suspected of terrorism to military and special courts where they are unlikely to receive fair trials,” Amnesty said.

The amendments “write into the permanent law emergency-style powers that have been used to violate human rights over more than two decades,” the London-based rights group said. “The parliament should not rubber stamp this.”

In an interview published Saturday, Mubarak defended the anti-terror amendment, saying it is “meant to deal with terrorism-related crimes only, through judiciary channels, and the judicial authority.”

“It is sad to see that the debate about it has not been objective,” Mubarak told the government daily Akhbar Al-Youm. “I want to tell people that these amendments came as a response to a public desire for more political reform.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition bloc in parliament, and other opposition groups have denounced the amendments and plan to boycott Sunday’s parliament vote. The opposition makes up nearly 25 percent of parliament’s 454 members.

In addition to the anti-terrorism law, the amendments include provisions the opposition says hinder independent judicial monitoring of elections. Another bans the formation of political parties based on religious denomination and requires candidates for president to come from parties with a certain percentage of seats in parliament – both seen as aimed at pushing the Muslim Brotherhood out of politics.