UK 'very concerned' over sentencing of Egyptian activists

Ayat Al-Tawy, Thursday 12 Jun 2014

Official from UK Foreign Office calls on Egypt to uphold freedoms and rights laid out in its constitution

Shura Council
Security forces clash with protesters in front of the Shura Council, in downtown Cairo, Egypt, November 26, 2013 (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

The UK has called on Egypt's government to respect the freedoms outlined in its 2014 constitution after Alaa Abdel-Fattah – a key figure from the 2011 uprising – was hit with a hefty jail sentence yesterday for holding an illegal protest.

On Wednesday, the prominent activist and blogger along with 24 others was sentenced to 15 years in jail and a fine of LE100,000 ($14,000) on charges of organising an unauthorised protest in November of last year, as well as rioting and attacking a police officer.

The convictions stem from a law passed late last year that bans all but police-sanctioned protests. The protest law has heightened anxiety about the future of freedoms in Egypt and the state's tolerance of dissent.

Hugh Robertson, UK Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East, said in a statement on Thursday he was "very concerned" about the sentencing over charges of a "peaceful protest".

He urged Egyptian authorities to reconsider the protest law which led to the defendants' conviction and implement the rights contained in the constitution.

"The UK continues to believe that the best way for Egyptians to achieve the goals of Egypt’s 25 January [2011] revolution is through an inclusive political process which respects human rights," Robertson added in the statement.

Despite offering its congratulations to Egypt's new president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi earlier this week, London has repeatedly argued there will be no long term stability in Egypt unless human rights like freedom of expression and the ability to protest are guaranteed.

Wednesday's sentencing was the toughest yet against pro-democracy youth activists who spearheaded the 2011 uprising that toppled former autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Authorities have launched a harsh crackdown on Islamists since the military's July ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on the back of mass protests against his year-long rule.

Several liberal-minded dissidents protesting against the interim government that took over after Morsi have also been targeted in the clampdown.

The sentencing of activist Abdel-Fattah on Wednesday came only three days after El-Sisi was inaugurated as Egypt's new president.

Three other prominent activists who were at the forefront of the 2011 uprising – Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Doumah – are currently serving three-year sentences for their part in the same November protest.

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