The verdict in the retrial of well-known activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah reduced a 15-year prison sentence for organising an unauthorised protest and allegedly assaulting a police officer. The ruling was condemned by defence lawyers and supporters, who said he should have been set free.
The retrial began in October and involved 25 defendants, five of whom are fugitives. Beside Abdel-Fattah, only one other defendant, Ahmed Adel-Rahman, received a five-year prison sentence. The rest were sentenced to three years.
Judge Hassan Farid also ruled that Abdel-Fattah, Abdel-Rahman, and the rest of the defendants be placed under police surveillance for a period similar to their prison terms after their release, requiring them to report daily to the police.
The courtroom erupted after the verdict, with relatives and friends in the gallery shouting: “Down with oppression.”
One man collapsed as Abdel-Fattah’s family and friends wept and screamed: “Down with military rule!” Police then ordered everyone to clear the courtroom. About 100 relatives, friends and activists waited outside the gate of the police academy where the trial was held, hoping for a glimpse of their loved ones in the police truck taking them back to prison.
The defence lawyer Mohammed Abdel-Aziz decried the verdict as “harsh and oppressive”. The court “didn’t take into consideration any of the evidence that showed the defendants’ innocence”, he said.
Another rights lawyer, Taher Abou el-Nasr, said: “Regrettably, the verdict was expected. We no longer expect acquittals.”
Lawyers said they will appeal the ruling the country’s highest appeals court. In a brief address before he delivered the verdict, Judge Farid insisted the ruling was “free of any interference or caprices”.
Egyptian officials insist the judiciary is independent and does not rule based on political considerations.
An outspoken blogger, Abdel-Fattah has been in and out of prison in the years since the 2011 ousting of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. He campaigned against military trials for civilians in the nearly 17 months that generals held power following Mubarak’s resignation. He also opposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, whom the military overthrew in 2013.