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Egypt court jails anti-Mubarak activists for 3 years
Published Sunday 22/12/2013 (updated) 23/12/2013 16:36
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Egyptian activicts Ahmed Douma (left) and Ahmed Maher, the
founder of the April 6 youth movement that led the revolt against
Hosni Mubarak, stand in the dock during their trial on Dec. 22,
2013 in Cairo (AFP)
CAIRO (AFP) -- An Egyptian court on Sunday sentenced three activists who spearheaded the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak to three years in jail for organizing an unlicensed protest, judicial sources said.

It was the first such verdict against non-Islamist protesters since the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi in July, and was seen by rights groups as part of a widening crackdown on demonstrations by military-installed authorities.

Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel were also convicted of rioting and assaulting security forces during an unauthorized protest held last month, and were fined 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($7,100) each, the sources said.

The three activists chanted "down with the military regime," as the court gave its verdict, official news agency MENA reported.

Maher is the founder of the April 6 youth movement that led the revolt against Mubarak. All three defendants were leading dissidents under Mubarak, but they also supported the military's overthrow of Morsi, whom they accused of betraying the 2011 "revolution."

Maher and Douma were arrested after Maher's supporters allegedly scuffled with police outside a Cairo court on November 30, when Maher handed himself in for questioning on suspicion he had organised an illegal protest.

Adel was absent from the first hearing on Dec. 8 but was captured earlier this week in a midnight police raid on a non-governmental organisation in Cairo.

They were found guilty of violating a controversial law enacted last month that requires police authorization for protests, less than three years after Mubarak was toppled by massive pro-democracy demonstrations.

Another prominent pro-democracy activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, has also been arrested for allegedly participating in a violent and illegal protest. The date for his trial is yet to be determined.

The longtime activist and blogger had previously been jailed under Mubarak, the military junta that ruled after his 2011 overthrow, and Morsi.

More recently, the military justified its overthrow of Morsi -- Egypt's first freely elected president -- as a response to massive protests against his turbulent year-long reign, which critics said was marked by power-grabbing and economic mismanagement.

'Mubarak era' tactics

The new protest law has angered many secular and liberal activists who had viewed the military-installed government -- which has pledged a democratic transition with fresh elections next year -- as a lesser evil than Morsi.

Human Rights Watch's Egypt director said Sunday's verdict was an "indication" of what could come in the future.

"The verdict is significant because it sits in very much with the pattern that we have seen, particularly in the past three weeks," HRW's Heba Morayef told AFP.

"This is a standard Mubarak era tactic to crack down on protests. The verdict is deeply problematic ... they (the authorities) are particularly targeting protest leaders."

The United States and rights groups have expressed concern about the law, which was introduced after Egypt lifted a three-month state of emergency.

Since Morsi's overthrow the authorities have launched a sweeping crackdown on his supporters that has left more than 1,000 people dead and thousands more in jail, including virtually the entire top leadership of his Muslim Brotherhood, which prevailed in a series of polls held after Mubarak's ouster.

On Aug. 14, security forces stormed two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo, setting off clashes in which hundreds of people were killed, mainly Morsi supporters, in the worst mass killing in Egypt's modern history.

Morsi himself remains in detention, charged with inciting violence against protesters during a rally outside the presidential palace in December 2012.

He is to stand two more trials -- one for espionage involving the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and the other for a prison break and the murder of officers during the anti-Mubarak uprising.
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