By Dina Zayed
CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian draft law that imposes prison sentences for some strike action violates international laws on freedom of assembly and must be scrapped, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday.
Last week, Egypt's military-backed government approved the draft law, which is valid for as long as Egypt's state of emergency is in force, saying the strikes were damaging the economy. It extends to those who organize strikes.
"This virtually blanket ban on strikes and demonstrations is a betrayal of the demands of Tahrir protesters for a free Egypt," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
"Any genuine transition toward democracy must be based on respect for the basic rights of the people, including their right to demonstrate," she said in a statement which demanded the immediate reversal of the decision to ban strikes.
Some workers have pressed protests to demand better wages and working conditions after a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak from power. Some strikes have disrupted the economy and hit Egypt's vital tourist industry, economic analysts say.
Egypt's government, facing a growing budget deficit, has said the law was not meant to outlaw peaceful demonstrations, but was meant to stop any "counter-revolution" from hijacking Egypt's revolution.
The rights group said the law had "overbroad and vague provisions" that did not meet "narrowly permitted grounds for limits on public assembly under international law."
Rights groups are concerned the provisions would give security forces sweeping powers of arrest. They have criticized the arrests of hundreds of peaceful protesters on charges of disrupting public order.
They say the military has detained and in some cases tortured protesters, later bringing them to trial before military courts.
Egypt's interim military rulers have promised to lift decades-old emergency laws but have not given a timeframe.
"It's quite shocking, really, that a transitional government meant to replace a government ousted for its failure to respect free speech and assembly is now itself putting new restrictions on free speech and assembly," the group said.
(Editing by Elizabeth Piper)