CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian appeals court reduced the jail terms on Sunday for 23 young activists convicted of violating a law banning protests without a permit, judicial sources said.
The arrest of the activists in June while they demonstrated against the law which tightly restricts protests was condemned by rights groups as a reflection of an increasingly repressive political climate in Egypt.
Mass protests led to the ousting of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and were used to express discontent with Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, who was toppled by the army last year.
Human rights groups have called the charges against the activists baseless and decried the case as an example of “show-trials” based on scant evidence and intended to warn citizens against defying government policies.
“Though expected in the light of harsh and unfair sentences in similar cases, we are shocked and dismayed at how political and human rights activists are being punished in Egypt for peacefully expressing their views,” said Khaled Mansour, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights where one of the defendants, Yara Sallam, worked.
Sallam, a 28-year-old lawyer, was not participating in the demonstration according to eyewitnesses, but was rounded up nearby and put on trial.
Sanaa Abdel Fattah, a 20-year-old university student and the sister of leading activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, was also among those arrested. On Sunday, their sentences were reduced from three years to two.
Security forces killed hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators last year at two Cairo protest camps seeking Mursi’s reinstatement. Islamist supporters continue to protest in small numbers and many thousands have been arrested.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as army chief oversaw Mursi’s ouster, was elected president in May and has pledged to revive the economy and combat an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai.
Sisi has made less specific promises about upholding the rights and freedoms that many Egyptians took to the streets to demand four years ago. The security crackdown has expanded to include liberal and secular activists, including some of the leading figures of the 2011 uprising.
The court also canceled a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds($1,400) levied against each of the defendants and reduced the period of police surveillance following their release to two years from three.
The ruling can still be appealed in the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest legal authority.
Additional reporting by Maggie Fick; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Rosalind Russell