World Bulletin/News Desk
An Egyptian court sentenced leading activist Alaa Abdel Fattah to 15 years in jail on Wednesday for violating a protest law and on other charges, his lawyer said, a move likely to outrage human rights groups.
Abdel Fattah, 33, became a symbol of the 2011 uprising against President Hosni Mubarak through his leading role in the protests and on social media. Twenty four other people were also sentenced to 15 years in jail on similar charges.
The ruling came three days after former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was inaugurated as president, nearly a year after he toppled the country's first freely-elected leader, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since Mursi's fall, security forces have killed hundreds of Brotherhood supporters and arrested thousands of others.
They have also rounded up secular activists like Abdel Fattah, raising concerns the authorities are turning the clock back to the Mubarak era when any form of dissent was risky.
The protest law passed last year heightened fears about the future of political freedoms in Egypt. It gives the Interior Ministry the right to ban any meeting of more than 10 people in a public place. Rights groups say it is deeply repressive.
Abdel Fattah was ordered arrested over accusations he called protests against provisions in a new constitution that allow civilians to be tried in military courts.
Abdel Fattah's wife wrote on her Twitter feed that the police had beaten her while arresting her husband. "They stole both our laptops and both our mobiles," she wrote.
Asked about the accusation, an Interior Ministry official said it would be investigated if she filed a formal report.
Western allies have voiced concerns about human rights abuses in Egypt but have not taken strong measures in protest.
Activist Asmaa Mahfouz expressed alarm over Wednesday's prison sentences.
"Fifteen years for protesting?????? What about those who killed? Those who steal the money of the poor? Those who raped girls in the square?," she asked on Twitter.
"There will never be a state as long as this goes on."
Sisi ordered the interior minister to fight sexual harassment following the arrest of seven men for attacking women near Cairo's Tahrir Square during his inauguration celebrations, his office said on Tuesday.
Many Egyptians, exhausted by three years of street violence and upheaval, see Sisi as a strong figure who can restore stability and seem less concerned about alleged abuses.
"Instead of addressing the urgent need for reform, Egyptian authorities have spent the last year engaging in repression on a scale unprecedented in Egypt's modern history," said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
"Now that President al-Sisi has formally taken the reins of power, he should put an end to these rampant abuses."