Three prominent youth activists from Egypt's 2011 revolution were the first to be handed stiff jail sentences under a draconian new anti-protest law, signaling an escalation of the military-backed government's crackdown on dissent.
Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, members of the April 6 Youth Movement that helped topple former President Hosni Mubarak, and Ahmed Douma, a prominent activist, were sentenced on Sunday to prison labor and steep fines, in addition to the jail terms, for allegedly protesting without permission and attacking police—a charge the defendants vehemently deny.
Upon hearing the verdict, the activists shouted "Down, down with military rule!" from the mesh cages used to hold defendants in Egyptian courts. Journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous released a Tweet showing video footage of the scene:
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— Sharif Kouddous (@sharifkouddous) December 22, 2013
This is the first criminal trial in Egypt that has invoked the country's infamous protest law that was passed last month. The legislation, which "effectively bans protest" according to The New York Times, requires protesters to seek approval for gatherings of more than ten people and expands police power to violently crackdown on demonstrations.
The law is seen by many as evidence that the brutal Mubarak-era security state is alive and well in Egypt today. Pro-democracy and human rights groups charge that the law is being used to quell dissent ahead of elections planned by the interim government.
"April 6 Youth Movement condemned the court verdict in a press conference on Monday, deeming it as a flagrant violation of civil freedoms and human rights," independent Egyptian publication Mada Masr reports.
A coalition that opposes both military and Muslim Brotherhood rule, called the The Revolution Path Front, has called for mass protests on Monday in response to the sentences.