Fury in Egypt Over Harsh Sentences to 21 Women Protesters

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The convicted women and girls received 11-year prison sentences for a peaceful protest--AP
The convicted women and girls received 11-year prison sentences for a peaceful protest–AP

CAIRO, Nov 28 – Clashes have erupted between Egyptian security forces and protesters who took to the streets to denounce heavy sentences handed down to a group of 21 women for holding a peaceful protest earlier this month.

Thursday’s unrest in front of Cairo University in the capital left one person dead, medical sources said. The convicted women, who are supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, received 11-year prison sentences for forming a human chain and passing out flyers in the city of Alexandria. The youngest member of the group is 15-years-old. Images from the Alexandria courtroom where they were sentenced on Wednesday showed the women, wearing white headscarves and prison uniforms, handcuffed in the defendants’ cage.

Human rights organizations have also heavily criticized the ruling, saying it marks a bolder resolve by the military-backed government to stifle dissent. Egypt’s army-backed government passed a law earlier this week that restricts demonstrations. “There has been an uproar and I have to say that uproar is across the board. Many Egyptians looked at these girls, all dressed in white, sitting in a criminal cage, and looking so young,” Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Cairo, said.

“They were sentenced for obstructing traffic, for possessing illegal tools that could harm other citizens, for thuggery and for other minor crimes that certainly don’t deserve such a hard sentence, and have many people here [wondering] where the country is heading and how far this will go.” The new law bans public protests or political gatherings of more than ten people organized without a permit from Egyptian authorities. The government plans to impose steep fines and jail terms for violators.

The country’s interim prime minister defended the new law as a “necessary step” on Wednesday. But hundreds of protesters opposed to both Morsi and the government gathered Cairo for a rally against the law. “Those thinking the authoritarian pharaonic style works will find it doesn’t anymore,” said protester Laila Soueif.

“There will be a third wave of the revolution much more violent than before. We are witnessing a turning point.” Egyptian activist Yasmin Refaei described the women’s arrests as a “tactic by the state to discourage and scare women away from protests”. The controversial law comes ahead of an election season that will include a referendum on amendments to the Morsi-era constitution.

Meanwhile hundreds of protesters took to the streets in cities across the country on Friday and clashes erupted when police tried to break up some of the demonstrations, days after a hotly-disputed protest law was adopted.

At least 70 people were arrested across the country on Friday, according to the interior ministry, which added that more arrests were expected throughout the night and that clashes were continuing in several areas.

Protesters in the city of Giza threw Molotov cocktails at one police station where clashes raged for hours, the interior ministry told Al Jazeera.

Violence between police and protesters also broke out in the country’s second largest city, Alexandria, after Muslim prayers, with security forces firing tear gas to disperse hundreds of people.

The Mediterranean city has been tense since a court handed down heavy sentences of 11 years in prison to 21 female supporters of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi, many of them juveniles, for holding a peaceful protest.

The office of the president on Friday, however, said the women and girls would be granted a full pardon by the interim president once their cases had gone through the appeal and cessation courts.

They have been held for weeks after being arrested during a protest demanding the reinstatement of Morsi, who was ousted by the military on July 3. The youngest girl is 15-years-old.–Agencies

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