Egypt court jails 101 people for five years over protest attempts

A Cairo court late Saturday jailed 101 people for five years over attempted protests last month against a government plan to hand two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

The accused had been arrested in western Cairo on April 25 after police broke up a brief protest in the area.

They were charged with protesting without a permit, disturbing public security and membership of a terrorist organization.

Authorities have arrested over 1,300 people in total in a crackdown on opposition to the planned handover of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir, according to the Front to Defend Egypt's Protesters, an alliance of human rights lawyers.

The convictions bring the total number sentenced on Saturday over the protests to 152, after another hearing earlier in the day in which 51 people were jailed for two years.

An alliance of political groups formed to campaign against the handover of the two islands charged that the verdicts came after "speedy trials and arbitrary investigations."

They would "only increase frustration and anger among Egyptian citizens and young people at their being denied the slightest right to peaceful freedom of expression," the Popular Campaign to Defend the Land said.

Opponents of the handover had called for protests on April 25, but were largely foiled by a heavy police deployment and the arrests of suspected activists over previous days.

The handover of the islands, quietly announced during a recent visit to Cairo by Saudi King Salman, has caused outrage on social media and among the Egyptian opposition.

The government says that technical work by experts on both sides established that the islands were in fact Saudi territory.

Opponents of the handover, however, have accused the authorities of "selling" Egyptian territory in return for billions of dollars of aid and financing provided by Saudi Arabia since President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, then head of the armed forces, ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

The government appears to have been rattled by earlier protests on the issue on April 15, which were the first major non-Islamist street protests against al-Sissi in two years.

Al-Sissi himself has appealed to the public not to discuss the issue, saying it should be considered only by parliament, which has to ratify the maritime boundaries agreement under which Egypt recognizes Saudi sovereignty over the islands.

The crackdown over Tiran and Sanafir has also seen the arrests of a prominent rights lawyer, Malek Adly, who planned to file a court case against the handover of the islands; Amr Badr, the editor of an opposition news site; and four members of a performance group who mocked the deal.

The arrest of Badr and a colleague in a raid on the Journalists Syndicate building has led to a stand-off between the government and the union, which has called for the sacking of the interior minister.

Last update: Sun, 15/05/2016 - 17:12

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