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Coptic Catholics welcome Egypt’s new terrorism laws but warn on personal freedoms

Members of the Egyptian security services stand guard at the site of a July 16 bomb blast in Cairo (CNS)

Egypt’s Catholic Church has welcomed tough new anti-terrorism laws, but warned the country’s military-backed government not to violate personal freedoms.

“Recent bomb attacks have shown terrorism is a major problem here, so we really need strong laws to help the police and Interior Ministry combat it,” said Fr Hani Bakhoum Kiroulos, patriarchal vicar of the Coptic Catholic Church.

“But such laws must be applied in ways that protect personal freedoms. Although the Catholic Church does not intervene on specific laws, especially when they’re already passed, it will go on repeating this message,” he said.

Human rights groups criticised the laws, which prescribe tough penalties against citizens judged to be supporting terrorism or spreading propaganda. Amnesty International warned the legislation would expand the use of emergency powers and restrict freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

Under the new laws, special courts will impose the death penalty or 25-year sentences on militants convicted of leading or financing terrorist groups. Military officers and police using force will be given additional protection, while media workers deemed to incite violence will face jail sentences and heavy fines for wrongly reporting militant attacks.

In an August 21 interview with Catholic News Service (CNS), Fr Kiroulos said a careful reading of the laws suggested “responsible media” would not be restricted.

“There is a serious problem with some media here, which simply inflate the truth,” he said. “Those which respect the media law won’t have a problem with these new measures, which will only affect those clearly and deliberately engaging in false reporting.”

He told CNS the Church would back government moves to prevent terrorist acts, but would also be vigilant against impediments to civil liberties.

“We’re concerned for the security not just of Catholics, but of all Egyptians, and we’re satisfied with the steps now being taken,” Fr Kiroulos said.

“The main problem here isn’t between Muslims and Christians, but between the Egyptian people and terrorists,” he added. “The government is already doing much to tackle this, but needs to do more.”

The new laws follow a two-year crackdown on the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which has seen at least 1,200 members condemned to death in mass trials, although no executions have been carried out, according to UN monitors. Hundreds of soldiers and police have also been killed in militant attacks in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Nearly 30 people were injured by an August 20 bomb blast in Cairo; ISIS claimed responsibility.