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Egyptian court upholds leading activist's jail sentence

Alaa Abdel Fattah will now serve the rest of his five-year sentence for breaching a law that rights groups say effectively bans protests
Egyptian leading leftwing activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah (C) is surrounded by supporters outside Cairo's main police station after he was released on bail by an Egyptian court on March 23, 2014 (AFP)

An Egyptian court upheld on Wednesday the five-year prison sentence for detained political activist Alaa Abdel Fattah.

The activist who has already served three and a half years of his term in the notorious Mazraa prison, was jailed for protesting without permission in breach of a 2013 law that rights groups say effectively bans protests.

But on Wednesday Egypt’s Court of Cassation issued a final ruling, changing the description of the sentence from “jail” to “imprisonment”.

The verdict means that Abdel Fattah will now see out the remaining year and a half of his sentence, five additional years on probation, and be forced to pay a fine of EGP100,000 ($5667).

Abdel Fattah, one of Egypt’s leading bloggers, an accomplished computer engineer, and viewed as the voice of Egypt's tech-savvy liberal youth, has consistently been a thorn in the side of Egypt’s political establishment.

He spent 45 days in detention in 2006 for protesting in support of judges calling for the independence of the judiciary under President Hosni Mubarak, before rising to prominence as one of the leaders of the 2011 revolution that ousted Mubarak from power.

Abdel Fattah is also on trial in a separate case where he is accused of insulting the judiciary, a charge that carries up to three years in jail. A verdict is scheduled for December.

His case has attracted global attention with supporters calling for his release using the #freealaa hashtag, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluding that he is arbitrarily detained and has called for his immediate release.

Amnesty International, which considers him a “prisoner of conscience”, have blamed Egyptian authorities for his detention.

“It is shocking that a man who stood side by side with Egypt’s judges to defend the rights of the judges and the judiciary more than 10 years ago, is now facing trial for peacefully criticising the same institution,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa campaigns director at Amnesty International in September.

“It is ironic that the Egyptian authorities are persecuting individuals for criticising the judiciary when there are serious questions hanging over its independence and impartiality.”

Egyptian rights activists say they face the worst crackdown in history under general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who they accuse of erasing freedoms won in the 2011 uprising.

Sisi, seen in the West as a bulwark against extremism in the region, has urged his critics to not judge Egypt’s rights records by western standards, saying security and economic prosperity are also human rights.

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