Power of arrest: Who has it, what can they do with it?

A ministerial decree on Tuesday to grant border guards the power of arrest is the latest in a series of bolstering measures handed to state authorities in the past two years.

The government frames the extending mandate as an additional tool for civil servants and the military in the state’s war on terror and combatting of religious extremism, as well as a stopgap measure against loosely defined threats to the stability of the state.

Some human rights campaigners however see the expanding mandate as a dangerous precedent that could lead to increased infringements on civil liberties.

Who typically has arrest powers and what are their jurisdictions?

Certain law enforcement agencies are automatically granted the power of arrest with absolute jurisdiction, allowing them to exercise their mandate against any crime at a national level.

These broad powers are given to members of several departments in the Interior Ministry. This includes officers of different ranks in the General Security Department, the Investigations Unit and the Prisons Department, as well as the Ministry of Interior’s inspectors within the Railway and Transportation Department and Tourism Ministry.

Other law enforcement individuals have the power of arrest with limited geographical and criminal jurisdiction. They includes prosecutors, heads of police stations, mayors and managers of railway stations.

The recent extension of arrest powers, outside the usual circle of authorities, can be attributed to Egypt’s criminal code, which allows the justice minister – in coordination with the relevant minister – to grant military personnel and civil servants arrest powers for crimes related to their sector.

What does the power of arrest allow officials to do?

In most instances, when government employees are granted the power of arrest it is mainly meant to allow them to file a report against violators directly to prosecutors, without having to go through police officers. But the power of arrest comes with other perks, too.

Officials with arrest powers can, as the mandate suggests, seize and imprison individuals who are caught perpetrating a crime that is punishable by more than three months in prison. In cases necessitating arrest, empowered officials can also search the suspect. These officials can also issue a subpoena, or a witness summons, to a suspect provided there is enough evidence.

They also have the authority to barricade crime scenes, prohibiting those present from leaving, as well as calling in witnesses and taking testimonies.

Below is a list of state agencies, whose personnel have been granted the power of arrest over the past two years:

Military police and military intelligence

In 2012, as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ transitional authority was coming to an end, the justice minister granted arrest powers to officers in the military police and military intelligence in crimes related to thuggery and vandalism, as well as general threats to government security and, more specifically, public transport. Political parties and human rights campaigners condemned the decision at the time, calling it a veiled return to the emergency state.

Accountability state authority

In October 2012, the justice minister granted the power to members of the accountability state authority, who are tasked with examining the papers and running inventory. The decision allowed the employees to arrest people who don’t cooperate with the inspectors.

Irrigation engineers

They gained this power in June 2013. Khaled Wasif, the minister of water resources at the time, explained that the step had been aimed at allowing engineers to file penalties against those who violate the rules of growing of rice or those illegally taking over water resources directly – without having to turn to the police.

Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority

In July 2013, the justice minister expanded the number of employees in the authority with the right to arrest. One hundred employees in the authority had already been granted that right in a previous decision. The new decree expanded it to include heads of several sectors within the authority and account inspectors.

Petroleum Authority leadership

In the midst of a petrol crisis in September 2013, the justice minister gave the power of arrest to the head of the Petroleum Authority and his aids in an attempt to better combat petrol smuggling.

University security

In September 2013, before the start of the first academic year following the removal of former President Mohamed Morsi and with plenty of protests expected, civilian university guards were given the right of arrest, allowing them to stop and search students and take them to the prosecution. While some saw the decision as a necessary tool to limit political protests on university campuses, human rights campaigners see it as a violation of student liberties.

The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS)

In an interview with privately owned newspaper Al Watan newspaper in September 2013, head of the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) Abu Bakr al-Gendy told the paper that employees certified by the agency to carry out economic surveys had been granted arrest powers to criminally pursue the head of any institution that refused to provide CAPMAS with information. In an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm on December 7, 2014, Gendy said that this right can also be used against citizens who refuse to answer the agency’s surveys. He said that uncooperative citizens are taken to the prosecution, where they usually agree to take the survey and settle the case.

Inspectors in the Local Development Ministry

In June 2014, Local Development Minister Adel Labib announced that the employees in the inspection sector of the ministry had been given the power of arrest to enable them to act quickly against crimes committed by their own employees.

Consumer Protection Agency

In November 2014, the authority was handed the power of arrest for use in crimes related to consumer rights. In an interview with Akher Sa’a, agency chief Atef Yaacoub said that the right of arrest acquired by its employees would “end the thuggery of the merchants,” adding that this power had enabled the agency’s investigations and market control units to fight merchant violations.

The General Organization for Export and Import Control

In November 2014, the justice minister empowered dozens of employees within the authority, ranging from its chairman to experts. Officials in the organization said that the decision aimed to make the process of releasing imports after their arrival faster by empowering its employees to make decisions without going back to the authorities.

Ministry of Endowments

In November 2014, one hundred Ministry of Endowment employees were granted the right of arrest. To counter rising Islamist militancy, which is partly blamed on extremist rhetoric within mosques, the endowments minister explained in a statement that the decision was meant to empower ministry employees to pursue individuals responsible for the dissemination of extremist sermons, as well as to crackdown on unlicensed imams.

Border guards

Earlier this week, Minister of Defense Sobhy Sedky issued a decree granting volunteer officers in the border guards the right of arrest following several border attacks on military forces. The decree was justified by military sources as a necessary tool to fend off internal and external threats.

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