Unconstitutional amendment punishes crimes yet to be committed; parliament must not expand the use of the death penalty

Press Release

11 March 2018

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights criticized the parliament for approving a government-submitted bill by a two-thirds majority vote in its general session on Tuesday, March 6. The bill amends provisions of the Penal Code (Law 58/1937) to stiffen penalties on persons convicted of the possession, importation, or manufacture of explosives. According to media sources, the bill introduces the death penalty for one of the crimes set forth, replacing Article 102(a) of the law with the following provision:

“A sentence of life imprisonment shall be levied against any person who possesses, has on his person, imports, or manufactures explosives, explosive materials, or the equivalent prior to obtaining a permit. The sentence shall be death if the crime is committed in pursuance of a terrorist purpose.”

“The amendment is unconstitutional because the penalty is disproprtionate to the criminalised act” said Hoda Nasrallah, a lawyer at EIPR. “The penalty of death is incommensurate with the crime of the possession or manufacture of explosives, despite the addition of an aggravating condition: that it is for a terrorist purpose. Such a purpose may or may not be realized, and the death penalty cannot be handed down for an act linked to a potential future crime.”

She added, “The provisions of chapter two of the Penal Code on explosives only prescribe the death penalty if explosives are used in politically motivated killing or the destruction of buildings and facilities, or if the use or attempted use of explosives leads to the death of persons in an explosion. There is no clearer proof, then, that the death penalty is disproportionate to the crime of just possessing explosives.”

The EIPR reiterates statements made by Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights while countering terrorism: “Resorting to this type of punishment to curb terrorism is illegal as much as it is futile. There is a lack of persuasive evidence that the death penalty could contribute more than any other punishment to eradicating terrorism. The death penalty is also an ineffective deterrent because terrorists who are executed may just gain prominence as may their cause.”

In September, the Egyptian government agreed in principle to a moratorium on the death penalty pending a societal debate on the issue. The EIPR therefore asks the government to respect its obligations, stop proposing additional statutory amendment that would make more people subject to the death penalty, and initiate a domestic debate on a moratorium of the death penalty.

The EIPR again calls on the Egyptian government to suspend the death penalty, staying the implementation of all final sentences and refraining from issuing any new sentences. We also hold the Egyptian government fully responsible for any persons executed whose innocence may be subsequently established, and we reiterate that true deterrence will come through radical reforms of state institutions. The state must also give serious consideration to all international conventions and treaties against the death penalty and comply with international and domestic human rights standards.