Appeals court frees 6 backers of black-clad Egypt protest group

CAIRO Mon May 13, 2013 10:57am EDT

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CAIRO (Reuters) - A Cairo court quashed the convictions of six men accused of attacking police and damaging property during protests against Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and freed them on Monday, judicial sources said.

The ruling earlier this month against the men, aged 19 to 25, was the first dealing with a little-known group known as the Black Bloc which the Islamist-led government has accused of participating in "terrorist acts".

The men had been sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison, according to state media. But the Cairo appeals court overturned the ruling and freed them, the judicial sources told Reuters.

The role of the men in the movement was unclear. State news agency MENA previously described them as "relatives of Black Bloc members".

As reasons for its ruling, the sources said, the court said the charges were not specific enough and cited the "mental state" of the six, suggesting they had acted under pressure from relatives who were full members of the Black Bloc.

Yasser Saeed Ahmed, one of the lawyers representing the men, said the case lacked legal foundation from start to finish.

He portrayed the reversal of the ruling as evidence the charges were baseless, and accused the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political party heads the government, of using legal organs to marginalize liberal and secular critics.

"The political system in Egypt is now controlled by the Brotherhood," Ahmed told Reuters. The Muslim Brotherhood and the presidency deny using legal action for political purposes.

Hundreds of apparent supporters of Black Bloc Egypt, mainly black-clad youths, emerged in January at the forefront of protests in Cairo, Alexandria and cities along the Suez Canal against Mursi's government.

Public prosecutor Talaat Abdallah ordered police, army officers and the public to arrest anyone suspected of being members and accused them of being an "organized group that participates in terrorist acts".

The group's tactics appear to be inspired by ultra-left militants in Europe who, dressed in black and covering their faces, have become a hardcore force in anti-globalization protests.

(Writing By Maggie Fick; Editing by Alexander Dziadosz and Mark Heinrich)

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