Egypt’s top legal body, the State Council, has approved a draft bill to abolish the use of flogging and caning as disciplinary measures in prisons, interior ministry officials say.
The bill, recommended by interior minister Habib el-Adly, and adopted by the council on Aug. 27, must be approved by parliament to become law, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Human rights groups in Egypt and abroad have frequently criticized the treatment of prisoners in Egyptian jails, singling out flogging, caning and solitary confinement as unconstitutional measures.
Flogging and caning in prisons were first introduced in mainly Muslim Egypt in 1956, with offending adult inmates receiving a maximum of 36 lashes for offenses such as assaulting prison officers or mutiny. Incarcerated minors are caned 10 times for disciplinary offenses.
Flogging is prescribed by Islamic Sharia Law as a punishment, but it is not part of the penal code in Egypt although the country’s constitution stipulates that Sharia is the main source of legislation. Meanwhile, the human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Egyptian authorities of systematically harassing opposition politicians, and of placing a muzzle on civil society.
In a report published last month, Amnesty says that during the last ten years, new legislation has restricted the freedom of expression and of association in Egypt.
The report highlights the risk of imprisonment faced by political activists, and says this risk has increased in the run-up to elections in October.
Armed Islamic groups are also criticized for continuing to call for the killing of those they consider their political enemies.
The biggest Islamic group in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, has accused the government of trying to stop it from playing a part in the country’s upcoming elections.
Fifteen members of the Brotherhood have been arrested in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria over the past few days, in what one of the group’s leadership called an attempt to scare them.
The arrests took place last Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, local Brotherhood leader Ali Abdel Fattah told Egyptian reporters.
The attorney general has decided to place eight of the 15 under two weeks' detention "for the needs of the inquiry," Egypt's state-owned MENA news agency reported without specifying what had happened to the other seven. The eight have been accused of belonging to an illegal organization and "spreading the movement’s ideas which aim at endangering security and disturbing the peace.”
Abdel Fattah said the other seven people arrested were still in detention and were "waiting to be accused of the same charges as their comrades."
He said five of those arrested were being detained in Torah prison south of Cairo while the remaining 10 were in Al-Hadara prison in Alexandria.
"This latest haul aims at hindering our participation in legislative elections" which open on October 18, Abdel Fattah said.
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