UN rights chief urges end to Egypt's emergency law

28th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

The UN human rights chief on Friday urged Egypt to lift a 30 year-old emergency law suspending constitutional rights and granting wider powers of arrest, as a wave of protests engulfed the country.

"I believe the lifting of the emergency law is long overdue and it lies at the root of much of the frustration and anger that has now boiled over into the streets," High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.

Pillay stressed the importance of accountability and the rule of law in creating a stable society, as she called on the government to exercise restraint.

"I call on the government to take concrete measures to guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression," including restoring the freedom to use mobile phones and social networks, she said.

Egypt cut mobile phone and Internet services on Friday, while riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse tens of thousands of people joining anti government protests after noon prayers.

The controversial emergency law, which gives police wide powers of arrest, suspends constitutional rights and curbs non-governmental political activity, has been in place since Islamists assassinated president Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Egypt's government had pledged last year to restrict its use once new legislation on terror offences and drug trafficking was adopted.

Pillay said: "While maintaining rule and order are important, the responsibility of the government to protect the rights to life, liberty and security is paramount."

During the World Economic Forum's meeting in Davos, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned Egypt's government that "freedom of expression should be fully respected" as it addresses the protests.

© 2011 AFP

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