CAIRO: In the latest blow to freedom of expression and assembly in Egypt, a Cairo court on Sunday (Monday in Manila) sentenced nearly two dozen secular activists to three-year prison terms for violating a law that essentially bans street protests.
The 23 who were sentenced in the closely watched case included several figures who rose to prominence during the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak. More recently, they had run afoul of the authoritarian regime that came to power after a 2013 coup that deposed the country’s first elected president, Islamist Mohamed Morsi.
Human-rights groups and Western governments have been sharply critical of the protest ban, which took effect nearly a year ago, saying the measure violates fundamental rights and is being used to quash all opposition to the government, whether by secularists or Islamists. A lawyer for the defense said the court case against the 23 was politically motivated.
Although Egypt claims it holds no political prisoners, thousands have been jailed over the past 16 months for various forms of dissent, including marches and demonstrations but also for views expressed on social media. Academics, journalists and filmmakers have also been targeted.