Egypt tightens penalties for relics robbers, smugglers
Parliament amended Egypt's antiquities law on Monday to bring in stiffer punishments for the theft and smuggling of relics while granting patent rights to the country's antiquities council.
The amendment requires Egyptians who have antiquities to report their possessions to the Supreme Council of Antiquities, headed by Zahi Hawass, in six months. The sale of antiquities is still banned.
"Parliament agreed on article eight that forbids trade in antiquities but allows possession of antiquities with some individuals, on condition that they cannot use them to benefit others, or to damage and neglect them," Hawass said.
These relics, he said, can in future only be given as a gift with the council's authorisation. They may also be passed on as part of an inheritance.
The antiquities legal counsel, Ashraf el-Ishmawi, who helped in the drafting of the amendments, clarified that the law precluded antiques and heirlooms.
He said the new law increased prison sentences for smuggling artifacts out of Egypt to 15 years and a one-million-pound (182,815-dollar) fine. The penalty for stealing artifacts has been doubled to 10 years.
"The goal of the new law is to protect Egyptian antiquities."
It also increases the punishment for tampering with antiquity sites to five years in jail, while a new provision gives patent rights to the antiquities council on precise replicas of antiquities that are certified by the council.
The amendments were passed after a stormy debate in parliament after steel magnate Ahmed Ezz reportedly proposed that the sale of some artifacts be allowed in Egypt, following the examples of Italy and France.
Culture Minister Faruq Hosni and Hawass both threatened to resign if parliament accepted the proposal.
Hawass has doggedly campaigned for a clampdown on the trade and smuggling of artifacts since he became head of Egypt's antiquities council in 2002.
He says that 5,000 artifacts have been returned to Egypt since then, most famously five fragments of an ancient fresco acquired by the Louvre Museum in France.
The museum returned them to Egypt after Hawass said they were stolen and threatened a boycott. He has also demanded the return of the iconic Queen Nefertiti bust from Germany's Neues Museum.
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