CAIRO — Egypt's military rulers should break with the past and abolish repressive laws and practices as the country prepares for parliamentary elections in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak's ouster, the head of Amnesty International said Saturday.
The military council that took power from Mubarak on an interim basis after February's political upheaval should set Egypt on a path toward greater human rights by fulfilling a promise to scrap decades-old emergency laws that gave Mubarak's security agents and police a free hand to silence dissent, Amnesty Secretary-General Salil Shetty told reporters during a visit to Cairo.
"This is an incredible moment of opportunity for the Egyptian authorities to show they have made a clean break with past abuses," he said.
Egyptian activists who helped bring down Mubarak accuse the military of operating in ways reminiscent of the ex-president's autocratic regime, locking up thousands of protesters in military prisons, where some have reportedly been tortured.
They have also criticized the ruling generals for bringing detained activists before military tribunals, which lack transparency and deliver swift, harsh sentences.
Shetty called it a paradox that many civilians, most of them political activists, are facing military judges, while Mubarak and other members of his regime will be tried in civilian courts.
Egypt's emergency laws, which were put in place in response to the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, empower authorities to arrest and detain people without charge. One of the laws criminalizes labor strikes.
Shetty said the laws create "an atmosphere of distrust which is likely to seriously affect preparations for elections," scheduled for September.
The human rights chief commended the interim leadership's release of many political prisoners from the Mubarak years, the dissolution of Egypt's most feared security agency, and plans to make Egypt a party to the International Criminal Court.
The Amnesty head said Mubarak's Aug. 3 trial will be a test for the new Egypt. The ex-president is charged with conspiring in the shooting of protesters during the 18-day uprising and with corruption.
"The test will be whether the trial will be transparent and whether the public will be given access to the trial," Shetty said.
Mubarak has been hospitalized since he was first summoned for questioning in April in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. It isn't yet clear where he will be tried.
Also Saturday, a court sentenced Egypt's former industry and commerce minister to five years in prison.
Rachid Mohammed Rachid, who was convicted in absentia of embezzling public funds, fled Cairo after the Jan. 25-Feb. 11 uprising. He was also fined about $2 million.
In a February interview with the Al-Arabiya TV network, he denied any wrongdoing during his tenure.
Rachid's current whereabouts is unknown. The last interview he gave was from the United Arab Emirates in February.
A number of Egypt's former top ministers and aides are currently being held in a Cairo prison on various corruption charges.