New amendments to anti-terror law authorise government to confiscate private property without indictment

The Egyptian parliament is preparing to discuss amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Law, submitted by the government, that prohibits renting apartments without notifying the Ministry of Interior within 24 hours of the conclusion of the contract, and obligates the Criminal Court to include the confiscation of real estate in its ruling of a conviction for any terrorist crime. These amendments, if they are finally approved as expected, are a new mechanism for targeting political opponents by confiscating their houses, even those owned by others, in light of the Egyptian regime’s adoption of the crime of “joining a terrorist group” as the stereotyped charge against political opponents and human rights activists.

What are the new amendments?

In early February, the House of Representatives Legislative Committee approved amendments to the anti-terrorism law, which the government submitted to the previous parliament but were not approved so far, and the government resubmitted them to the new parliament.

The proposed amendments include adding a text to Article 39 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, concerning penalties for terrorist crimes. The amendment adds real estate to the list of what the court should decide to confiscate in addition to “money, luggage, weapons, tools, documents, and other things that were used for the crime.” Moreover, the same article gives the public prosecution solely, without rulings from the criminal court, the authority to temporarily close any place where weapons of various kinds were manufactured or designed for committing terrorist crimes, “and other places that were used or prepared for use by a terrorist or a terrorist group.”

The amendments also included adding two articles to the law to define a new mechanism for renting real estate and units without differentiating between residential, administrative, and other units. The first concerns real estate and units that will be rented after the approval of amendments. It stipulates offenders are, “to be punished by imprisonment for no less than a year, and a fine of no less than EGP 5,000, and not exceeding EGP 10,000, or either of these two penalties, whoever rents a property or a unit without notifying the police department or station with a copy of the contract and the ID of the tenant within 24 hours from the date of residency or concluding contract, whichever is earlier.”

As for the second, it concerns real estate and units that are already rented, regardless of the type of contract whether it is a new rental contract or an old one (in Egypt, there are real estates rented according to old rent law that was permitting unlimited leaseholds), and stipulates, “the already lessors before this law have to adjust their conditions under its provisions within a period of one month in maximum from the date when the law comes into effect. The violator shall be punished with the same penalty prescribed in the previous article.”

The government set the goal of the proposed amendments to “block the way to the various forms of harbouring terrorist elements or providing them with safe houses and means that help them to hide away from the eyes of the authorities.”

What do these amendments mean?

The head of the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession, Nasser Amin, described these amendments as a “threat to all types of property,” and a new mechanism for targeting political opponents by confiscating their houses. Amin noted that the definition of a terrorist act or crime in Article 2 of the law is not limited to the use of violence and weapons, but rather extends to more than 70 other activities, indicating that if a person or entity issued a statement or conducts research the regime does not like, the authorities can classify it “a terrorist act that disturbs public order, harms national unity, or affects national security” and other sweeping charges. Amin stressed that the provision of confiscating real estate used in committing a terrorist crime extends the scope of confiscation to private and public property of residential units, offices, companies, associations, institutions, and all types of properties.

For example, if an association or person was charged with belonging to a terrorist group, the public prosecution, according to the amendments, may close the association’s headquarters or the apartment in which the person lives, as a precautionary measure under the pretext that it was used for terrorist activity, even if the headquarters or the apartment are rented and owned by another person.

Regarding the new mechanism of banning renting real estate and units without notifying the Ministry of Interior, Nasser Amin said that the Ministry of Interior has been using this mechanism for years according to periodic decisions issued by the minister, but just regarding lease contracts for furnished residential units. The new amendments have expanded the scope of application of this mechanism for all types of lease contracts, and made violating them a crime which could lead to a prison sentence, and not just a violation that merits a fine, which opens the door to using this malicious amendment, and the expansion of imprisonment of real estate owners.