CAIRO: An Egyptian court jailed prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, a symbol of the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak, for 15 years yesterday for assaulting a policeman during an illegal protest.
On bail since March, he and two co-defendants were arrested immediately after the ruling as they waited to be allowed to enter the makeshift court at a Cairo police academy.
The court handed down similar sentences to 24 co-defendants, none of whom were in court, after convicting them on charges ranging from participating in an illegal protest to rioting, blocking roads and assaulting policemen, judicial sources said.
They were also fined 100,000 Egyptian pounds each ($13,948). Because the verdict was pronounced in absentia, Abdel Fattah will be granted a retrial, said his father Ahmed Seif, who is also his lawyer.
“According to Egyptian law, the ruling is in absentia because the defence lawyers had not presented their case,” Seif said. “Alaa was not allowed to enter the court,” he said, denouncing what he said was a hasty ruling issued after just a few hearings.
“We had not yet watched any of the video evidence” in the case, he said, “nor had the prosecution and defence presented their cases.”
The sentencing comes just days after the swearing in of President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, who has vowed to return Egypt to stability rather than pursue democratic freedoms. “Sisi’s presidency will not return (Egypt) to the Mubarak era; it will be worse than the Mubarak regime,” Abdel Fattah himself said in May. Since Sisi ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last July, the authorities have waged a harsh crackdown on Mursi’s supporters as well as the secular opposition.
Seif said “the real objective of such rulings... is to prevent those criticising the regime from running in the (upcoming) parliamentary elections.”
The verdict triggered immediate reactions on social networks. “Does anyone believe Egypt is on the right track? How many indications of the opposite do you need,” asked one tweet.
Abdel Fattah and the others were accused of stealing a walkie-talkie from a policeman during a November protest organised to denounce increased powers given to the military in a new draft constitution. The protest was deemed illegal under a new law that banned all but police-sanctioned demonstrations, and which has since been used to send dozens of activists to jail.