Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi on Sunday approved an anti-terrorism law which establish special courts and offer additional protection from legal consequences for military and police officers who have used force.
The law also details sentences for various terrorism crimes ranging from five years to the death penalty.
Under the laws introduced on Monday, trials for suspected militants will be fast-tracked through special courts. Anyone found guilty of joining a militant group could face 10 years in prison.
Financing terrorist groups will also carry a penalty of life in prison, which in Egypt means a term of 25 years. Inciting violence or creating websites deemed to spread terrorist messages will carry sentences of between five and seven years.
The government had sped up the passage of the law after the state prosecutor was assassinated in a car bombing in late June, followed by a large-scale terror attack in the Sinai Peninsula days later.
The military was infuriated after media, quoting security officials, reported that dozens of troops had been killed in the Sinai attack. The military’s official death toll was 21 soldiers and scores of terrorists.
The controversial law, published in the government’s official gazette, sets a minimum fine of 200,000 pounds (about $25,000) and a maximum of 500,000 pounds for anyone who strays from government statements in publishing or spreading “false” reports on attacks or security operations against militants.
Critics say the steep fines may shut down smaller newspapers, and deter larger ones from independently reporting on attacks and operations against militants.
The government had initially proposed a jail sentence for offenders, but backed down after a backlash from Egyptian media.
The ratified law, however, added another clause allowing courts to “prevent the convicted from practicing the profession for a period of no more than one year, if the crime violates the principles of the profession.”
It did not specifically mention journalism.The law has raised fears that journalists could be put on trial for their reporting.
Three journalists had already been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for “defaming” the country and supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Egypt is facing an increasingly violent insurgency in North Sinai, where the most active militant group has pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Cairo and other cities have also witnessed attacks.
The insurgency, which has killed hundreds of soldiers and police, has intensified since then-army chief Sisi ousted the Islamist former President Mohamed Mursi after mass protests against his rule in 2013.
Sisi has since overseen a crackdown on Islamists. Thousands of alleged Islamist supporters have been jailed and scores have been sentenced to death, including Mursi and other senior Muslim Brotherhood figures.
The government considers the Brotherhood a terrorist group and does not distinguish between it and other militants. The Brotherhood says it is committed to peaceful activism.
In February, Sisi signed off on another anti-terrorism law that gave authorities sweeping powers to ban groups on charges ranging from harming national unity to disrupting public order.