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Egyptian courts release 21 pro-Morsi female supporters

By Agencies in Cairo, Egypt | China Daily | Updated: 2013-12-09 07:20

Egyptian appeals courts ordered the release on Saturday of 21 women and girls jailed over an Islamist opposition protest, after reducing harsh sentences that had sparked outrage.

To chants of "God is greatest" from supporters in an Alexandria courtroom, the 14 women were ordered freed after receiving one-year suspended sentences.

The girls, whose case was heard in a separate court, were put on three months' probation after having initially been sentenced to juvenile detention.

The initial sentences shocked even supporters of the military-installed government when they were handed down last month, and images of the white-clad defendants also galvanized the Islamist opposition.

The women and girls were all released by nightfall, one of their lawyers said.

The 14 women were originally sentenced to 11 years in prison after being convicted on charges related to an Oct 31 protest in support of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.

Wearing handcuffs but holding red roses, the 14 women appeared on Saturday dressed in white prison garb, with "freedom" scrawled in black marker on the palms of their hands.

Judge Sharif Hafiz found the 14 women guilty of three counts relating to violence during the protest, but reduced their sentence to one year and suspended it.

Their lawyer Ahmed al-Hamrawy had urged the court to acquit them, arguing there was no evidence against them.

"Even in Mubarak's era there were morals. Egypt's women and girls were a red line, and they weren't placed on trial," he told the court, referring to ousted former ruler Hosni Mubarak, Morsi's predecessor.

He later welcomed the new sentences but said he would appeal them anyway to get acquittals for the defendants.

"The sentence is satisfying to a degree, and it has a humanitarian aspect, ... but we will appeal," Hamrawy said.

During a recess before the appeals judge ruled, a defendant named Alma told AFP "this is an oppressive sentence".

She said her daughter was among the seven juveniles sentenced, and explained that they had both been near the Oct 31 protest by chance when arrested.

Another defendant, Aya Adel, said, "I have the right to express my opinion - this is a constitutional right, and we are currently political prisoners."

Prosecutors charged that the women had fought with knives and thrown rocks during clashes that erupted at the protest in Egypt's second city.

Six men said to be Muslim Brotherhood leaders were tried in absentia in the same case and sentenced to 15 years.

They were found guilty of inciting the women to cut off key roads in Alexandria during the clashes.

There was a heavy police presence outside the court complex in the coastal city, where Morsi's Islamist supporters have repeatedly clashed with opponents and security forces.


(China Daily 12/09/2013 page12)

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