Egyptian Court Jails Leading Activist For Five Years

02/23/2015 08:00 am ET | Updated Apr 25, 2015

By Shadi Bushra and Ali Abdelaty

CAIRO, Feb 23 (Reuters) - An Egyptian court sentenced a prominent activist to five years in jail on Monday for violating limits on demonstrations, part of one of the toughest crackdowns on dissent in Egypt's history.

After the verdict was read out, chants of "Down, down with military rule!" rang out from supporters of Alaa Abdel Fattah crowded into the courtroom.

Abdel Fattah was a leading secular figure in the 2011 revolt that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. He was originally sentenced in absentia to 15 years in jail, along with 24 others, before a retrial was ordered.

The blogger and software engineer is one of several activists to have been jailed since the army overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in mid-2013 and launched a crackdown not only on his Muslim Brotherhood but also on secular democracy activists.

Laila Seif, Abdel Fattah's mother, said she hoped her son would draw on the strength that helped his father, a human rights lawyer, through a five-year sentence under Mubarak.

One other defendant, Ahmed Abdulrahman, also received five years in jail; 18 accused received three years; and others who were tried in absentia were given 15 years. Abdulrahman's lawyer said his client would appeal.

The same court also adjourned to March 8 the trial of two Al Jazeera television journalists charged with aiding a terrorist organization - a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.

'NOT A SINGLE OFFICIAL'

Activists say that, as officials from Mubarak's police state are gradually rehabilitated, all political dissent is being stifled.

"Not a single official from the Mubarak regime has been sentenced, not a single police officer," said Khaled Dawoud, spokesman for the opposition Dostour Party.

"We have young Egyptians dying every day, and not a single person gets sentenced except those who believe in peaceful protest."

In January, the high court overturned the only remaining conviction against Mubarak himself, opening the way for his possible release, four years after a revolt that raised hopes of greater freedoms in the most populous Arab state.

Egypt's police force, which retreated into the background during Mubarak's demise, appears more powerful than ever.

The Interior Ministry says it investigates any allegations of wrongdoing, but human rights say police are rarely prosecuted for abuses.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former army chief, said on Sunday that the government would bring to justice those responsible for the death of activist Shaimaa Sabbagh, who was shot during a protest last month, and those who were killed in a football stadium stampede weeks later.

Another activist, Ahmed Douma, was sentenced to life in prison this month on charges of rioting, inciting violence and attacking security forces in late 2011. (Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Michael Georgy and Kevin Liffey)

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