An Egyptian court on Sunday defied global calls for the freedom of 23 democracy and human rights activists, sentencing them to three years in jail each for allegedly demonstrating against an anti-protest law.
The defendants were hit with the maximum jail sentence allowed under the law, fines of approximately $1,390 each, and three years of police surveillance following their release. Among those sentenced are human rights campaigners Sanaa Seif and Yara Sallam and photojournalist Abdel Rahman Mohamed.
The ruling was condemned on Twitter:
The defendants were arrested in June for allegedly participating in a demonstration near Cairo's presidential palace to urge the release of jailed activists, including prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, detained under Egypt's new anti-protest law.
The law was passed in 2013 by Egypt's interim government, which was installed by the army. The legislation requires Egyptians to attain state permission for gatherings of more than ten people and expands police power to repress protests. Critics say the rule, which has contributed to tens of thousands of arrests, is part of a "draconian" crackdown on dissent, driven by the regime of coup leader and current president Abdelfattah Al Sisi.
In addition to charges under the protest law, the defendants were also found guilty of offenses including destruction of property. The ruling is subject to appeal.
"[T]he charges are almost certainly baseless and the defendants are likely to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for their exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly," declared Amnesty International in a statement issued last month.
Independent journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous reports on Twitter:
— Sharif Kouddous (@sharifkouddous) October 26, 2014
Despite demands across Egypt and the world for the release of the defendants and others facing repression, the United States, which is a financial backer of the Egyptian government, has remained largely silent about its human rights abuses.