AN EGYPTIAN court has sentenced an icon of the country’s 2011 revolt to five years in prison, showing the authorities’ determination to continue to stifle dissent, despite promises by its president to release “wrongly jailed youths”.
The verdict came after the retrial of activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who earlier received a 15-year sentence for organising an unauthorised protest and allegedly assaulting a police officer.
The courtroom erupted after the verdict yesterday morning, with those in the gallery shouting “Down with oppression!”
One man collapsed as Abdel-Fattah’s family and friends wept and screamed, “Down with military rule!” Police ultimately ordered everyone to clear the courtroom.
Defence lawyer Mohammed Abdel-Aziz decried the verdict as “harsh and oppressive”.
The court “didn’t take into consideration any of the evidence that showed the defendants’ innocence”, he said.
Another rights lawyer, Taher Abou el-Nasr, said: “Regrettably, the verdict was expected. We no longer expect acquittal.”
Lawyers said they would take the case to Egypt’s Court of Cassation, the country’s highest appeal court.
An outspoken blogger, Abdel-Fattah has been in and out of prison in the years since the 2011 ousting of autocrat president Hosni Mubarak. He campaigned against military trials for civilians during the 17 months that generals held power following Mubarak’s resignation. He also opposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, whom the military overthrew in 2013.
The charges against him stem largely from a law prohibiting protests in Egypt without prior government permission, a measure that came in after Morsi was overthrown. Activists and rights groups have criticised the law as a way to stifle all dissent.
Abdel-Fattah had been accused of inciting an “unauthorised” protest in November 2013 against a clause allowing military trials for civilians in the draft of a new constitution, which was later adopted by referendum.
Earlier, Mona Seif, Abdel-Fattah’s sister and one of the organisers of the 2013 protest, said her brother had attended it but denied he had organised it, saying it was called for by a group that campaigns against military trials for civilians.
Police violently dispersed the protest on the grounds organisers had no permit. Women protesters, including Ms Seif, were detained by police and dumped in the middle of the desert outside Cairo that night.
Abdel-Fattah, who has been on a hunger strike, previously said his trial, which included 19 other defendants and five people tried in absentia, was a farce. One other accused was given a five-year sentence yesterday, with the others jailed for three years.
The ruling comes a day after Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi promised to free youths wrongly arrested. He said the coming few days would witness the first group of young people released from detention.
The new measure is not expected to affect Abdel-Fattah or his co-accused. However, some hope the authorities will resolve the stand-off between them and youth activists who were rounded up and put in detention centres for marching in demonstrations against the government.
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