Three leading figures of Egypt’s 2011 uprising were jailed for three years each on Sunday for their role in recent protests, as the army-backed authorities intensified a crackdown on dissent.
Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel are symbols of the protest movement that ignited the revolt that toppled president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Their sentences include prison labour and fines.
As the verdict was read, the three chanted “Down, down with military rule!” from the cage where defendants stand in Egyptian courts.
The verdict was the first under a law passed by the army-backed government in November that requires police permission for demonstrations. The case, in which the defendants were charged with protesting without permission and assaulting police, stemmed from protests called in defiance of the law.
Already pressing a fierce crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood movement of deposed president Mohammed Morsi, the authorities have arrested a number of secular activists recently for breaches of the protest law.
Critics see it as an attempt to stifle the kind of street activism common since the 2011 uprising as the government proceeds with a new political transition plan. The next step is a mid-January referendum on a new constitution.
The powerful security apparatus that crushed most protests during Mr. Mubarak’s 30 years in power has reasserted itself since Mr. Morsi’s removal.
“We are starting to be seen as enemies of the state. It is not going to be the last time,” said Sally Toma, a leading activist, reacting to the verdicts. “They will try to kill everything that this revolution [against Mr. Mubarak] stood for.”
The youth activist movement spearheaded by the likes of Mr. Maher, Mr. Douma and Mr. Adel has faced legal action by the state throughout the last three years, both under army-backed rule and under Mr. Morsi.
Mr. Douma was jailed for six months for calling Mr. Morsi a criminal
Mr. Maher is a founder of the April 6 movement, one of the groups that used social media to organize against Mr. Mubarak. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
“It’s very significant. It’s not the first time we’ve seen Douma arrested and facing trial … but we haven’t see high-profile activists actually sentenced to such a lengthy sentence,” said Heba Morayef, Egypt director with Human Rights Watch.