EU concerned by jailing of Egyptian activist

CAIRO/ALEXANDRIA Thu May 22, 2014 12:56pm EDT

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CAIRO/ALEXANDRIA (Reuters) - The European Union said on Thursday it was concerned by a prison sentence handed to a leading woman activist in Egypt for breaching a law that severely restricts the right to protest.

In Alexandria, where a court this week upheld the two-year sentence against Mahienour El Massry, the police used force including teargas to break up a demonstration against her jailing and detained a number of activists, witnesses said.

Massry was convicted over a protest last year outside a court trying two policemen accused of the killing of a man whose death in 2010 helped to ignite the uprising in early 2011 against then-president Hosni Mubarak.

Massry was also fined 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($7,000).

The protest law, passed last November by the military-backed government, has been criticized for effectively banning protests.

"The EU is concerned about the sentencing of Ms. Mahienour El Massry for peacefully demonstrating against a protest law that has drawn ample criticism, including from the U.N., for not being in line with international standards," the EU delegation to Egypt said in an emailed note.

"We wish a solution will soon be found leading to her release and that of other activists sentenced or on trial on similar grounds," it added.

The military-backed authorities have mounted a fierce crackdown since the army toppled the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi from the presidency last July, following mass protests against his rule.

Thousands of Islamists have been arrested, along with secular dissidents including leading members of the pro-democracy movement that helped to ignite the 2011 uprising.

Witnesses said the police in Alexandria had also raided offices of the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights, outside which the activists were holding the protest in solidarity with Massry. The police used tear gas, security sources said.

Mohamed Hafez, a 31-year-old lawyer who attended the meeting, said police had opened fire with birdshot and that he had been detained but later released. Others were still being held. "We don't have the final count," he said.

(Additional reporting by Abdel Rahman Youssef in Alexandria; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Michael Georgy and Kevin Liffey)

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