(Sept. 8, 2020) On August 16, 2020, the Egyptian Council of Representatives (Egypt’s parliament) in a general session approved a draft law aimed at protecting the reputations of victims of sexual violence and encouraging the reporting of sexual crimes. Two-thirds of the members of parliament voted in a favor of passing the draft law. The draft law must now be signed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and published in the official gazette to have the force of law.
The draft law requires the concealment of the personal information of female victims reporting sexual violence during the pretrial investigative stage. (The draft law applies only to the pretrial investigative stage because a law concealing the personal information of the plaintiff during the trial itself would be a violation of articles 96 and 187 of the Egyptian Constitution, which guarantee the rights of accused persons to due process and to defend themselves in a public trial.)
According to news reports, the cabinet proposed the draft law in July after the arrest of a person accused of raping and blackmailing three women had sparked a rare public debate over social media about sexual violence crimes, which put pressure on the government to act. The following month, on August 4, parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Committee approved the draft law for full parliamentary consideration, with the minister of justice, Omar Marawan, stating that the main purpose of the draft law was to protect the reputation of adult victims and minors who were victims of sexual violence by ensuring that the identity of the victims remained concealed, thereby encouraging victims to report sexual violence crimes without feeling afraid of retaliation by the perpetrator or of the judgment of others in the society.
Content of the Draft Law
The draft law adds article 113 (bis) to the Code of Criminal Procedure. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, the investigative judge or the Public Prosecution may investigate crimes, and article 113 (bis) allows the Public Prosecution or the judge investigating a case of sexual violence to conceal any personal information related to victims during the investigative stage before the trial. Furthermore, the draft law allows the Public Prosecutor and the judge investigating crimes against a minor’s safety, including sexual violence offenses, to conceal the identity of the minor during the investigative stage before the trial.
The draft law orders the creation of a separate file for the personal information of victims of sexual violence. The file is to be kept by the investigative authority, whether it is the investigative judge or the Public Prosecution. The information in this file must be kept secret and submitted only to the judge presiding over a criminal trial if one is later convened. The judge may allow the disclosure of the victim’s personal information, including name, mailing address, and date of birth to the defendant and his defense attorney during the criminal trial. This information, however, cannot be released to the media because article 21, paragraph 1 of Law No. 180 of 2018 prohibits the publication of court cases and ongoing investigations in a manner that might affect the position of one of the parties of the case.
Opposition to the Draft Law
Some members of parliament had objected to the draft law by arguing that the complete concealment of the plaintiff’s identity during the investigative stage infringed on the accused’s constitutional right to defend himself in a public trial, as protected by articles 96 and 187 of the Egyptian Constitution. They claimed that the accused would not be able to defend himself because he did not know who was accusing him and, therefore, why the plaintiff had accused him of sexual assault or rape.
Members of parliament objecting to the law also alleged that the concealment of the plaintiff’s identity violated the right of the accused to defend himself because the accused and his attorney would not be able to be present during the questioning of the plaintiff by the investigative judge or the public prosecutor investigating the accusation.
Support for the Draft Law
On the other hand, other members of the parliament, such as female parliamentarian Ghada Ghareeb, have voiced their support for the law. In a statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Ghareeb said that the law was a step in the right direction to protect women’s rights and would play a key role in increasing the reporting of sexual violence crimes.
Before it was approved by the parliament, the National Council for Women, a governmental organization, had expressed its support for the draft law, as had women’s rights activists such as Reda El-Danoubki, the director of the nongovernmental Women’s Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness. According to news reports, El-Danoubki declared that, in previous incidents, many victims of sexual violence felt pressured to withdraw their complaints against the perpetrators out of fear that their information would be made public, because there was no law protecting their identity.