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Mohamed Adel (right) and Ahmed Maher (left) were sentenced with protesting without permission [Reuters]
|A Cairo court has sentenced three leading activists to three years in prison for organising an illegal protest, the latest move in a widening crackdown on critics of the interim government.Two of the three activists, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, are leading members of the April 6 movement. The third is Ahmed Douma, a longtime activist who has been arrested under each of Egypt’s three post-revolutionary governments.
The court on Sunday also handed down fines of 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($7,200).
The defendants were charged with organising a protest last month outside Abdeen Court in downtown Cairo. Maher was at the court to turn himself in on charges connected with another illegal protest, also in November, outside the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament.
A restrictive law approved last month requires demonstrators to seek advance approval from the interior ministry.
The defendants were also charged with obstructing traffic, “thuggery,” and damaging private property: Security forces and protesters briefly scuffled with batons and plastic furniture from a nearby cafe. Officers said the defendants attacked them first. April 6 has denied this, and called the charges “political.”
Douma was arrested at his home several days after Maher turned himself in. Adel remained free until early Thursday morning, when he was detained during a raid on a local human rights organisation.
Thousands of people have been arrested since the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi in July, most of them supporters of the president and his Muslim Brotherhood. But the crackdown has recently widened to include liberal and secular activists.
Several prominent secular activists have been arrested in the past three weeks [Al Jazeera]
|Human Rights Watch has denounced the arrest of a prominent Egyptian activist during a raid by security forces on a domestic human rights organisation, which it described as a continuation of a crackdown on dissent.Police broke into the offices of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights late Thursday and arrested six of its members who were blindfolded and detained in an undisclosed place for nine hours. Five of them were later released.
Mohamed Adel, a founding member of the April 6 movement that contributed to the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak, remains in custody.
Police have in the past three weeks also gone after three other prominent activists of the Egyptian protest movement; Alaa Abdelfattah, Ahmed Maher and Ahmad Douma.
Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, said the pursuit of the activists is a deliberate effort to target “voices who demand justice and security agency reform”.
“It should come as no surprise that with the persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood well underway, the Ministry of Interior is now targeting leaders of the secular protest movement,” Whitson said in a statement released on Saturday.
“The Egyptian government has sent a strong signal with its attack on a human rights group, and these arrests and prosecutions, that it is not in the mood for dissent of any kind,” Whitson said.
With Adel’s arrest, the number of prominent political activists arrested by Egypt’s security forces in the past three years has risen to a total of five.
Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 youth movement and a 2011 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, is among those put in jail since the government passed a law outlawing the calling for protests without first attaining approvals from the Ministry of Interior.
Along with Adel, Maher and activist Ahmed Douma are on trial on charges relating to a protest on November 30, with a verdict scheduled for December 22.
Prosecutors also recently referred Alaa Abdelfattah, one of the most vocal critics of the police and the military, to trial on charges of organising a demonstration without notification.
Human Rights Watch accused the police of using “the deeply repressive” law to arrest scores of political activists on grounds that they failed to seek advance permission for their demonstrations.
“The government claims that, instead of criminal penalties, the new law sets fines – of 10,000 – 30,000 Egyptian Pounds (US$ $1,500 – 4,300) under article 21 – for failing to get advance permission,” the HRW statement said, adding: “Yet the new law incorporates the existing restrictive assembly laws, including Law 14 of 1923, which carries with it a prison sentence for participation in an unauthorised demonstration.”