CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi promised on Thursday to amend a law that human rights groups say has severely restricted protest rights and hinted at possible pardons for young people imprisoned without conviction.
Speaking at a youth conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, the former general said a committee would review the cases of young people held in pretrial detention and present its findings in two weeks so the presidency could take appropriate action.
Sisi does not have the authority to interfere in the judicial process in Egypt but is able to issue pardons. He said the government would consider suggested amendments to the protest law presented at the conference.
“The government, in coordination with the relevant state parties, will study the suggestions and proposals to amend the protest law ... and include them in the set of proposed legislation to be presented to parliament during the current session,” he told the conference.
Since seizing power in mid-2013 and ending a divisive experiment in Muslim Brotherhood rule, Sisi has presided over a fierce crackdown on his Islamist opponents that has seen hundreds killed and many thousands jailed.
The Brotherhood was banned as a terrorist organization and its leaders have been handed death sentences in mass trials that have drawn Western criticism.
But the dragnet has since widened to include secular and liberal activists at the forefront of the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
A law requiring interior ministry go-ahead for any public gathering of more than 10 people is strictly enforced and has largely succeeded in ending the kind of mass demonstrations that helped unseat two presidents in three years. Critics condemn it is unconstitutional.
Human rights groups say Egyptian security agents have abducted and tortured hundreds of young people in the past two years in an unprecedented spike in enforced disappearances. Government officials say those detained are charged or released.
Street protests have all but dried up since the protest law was passed as activists who have held even small, peaceful gatherings were detained.
Sisi’s announcement came as rumors spread that Nov. 11 will see widespread protests against worsening economic conditions.
Egyptians elected Sisi as president by a landslide in 2014 but his promise to restore stability to a populace beleaguered by years of upheaval has worn thin as economic woes have mounted.
Reporting by Ali Abdelatti; Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Tom Heneghan