Prominent Egypt activist Abdel Fattah jailed 15 years

Prominent Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah stands in front of a criminal court in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, June 11. AP Photo

An Egyptian court jailed prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, a symbol of the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak, for 15 years for assaulting a policeman during an illegal protest.

Abdel Fattah, on bail since March, was arrested along with two co-defendants immediately after the ruling as they waited to be allowed to enter the makeshift court at a Cairo police academy.

The court handed down similar sentences to 24 co-defendants, none of whom were in court, after convicting them on charges ranging from participating in an illegal protest to rioting, blocking roads and assaulting policemen, judicial sources said.

Because the verdict was pronounced in absentia, Abdel Fattah will be granted a retrial while he is in custody, said his father Ahmed Seif, who is also his lawyer.

"According to Egyptian law, the ruling is in absentia because the defence lawyers had not presented their case," Seif told AFP.

"Alaa was not allowed to enter the court," he said, denouncing what he said was a hasty ruling issued after just a few hearings.

"We had not yet watched any of the video evidence" in the case, he said, "nor had the prosecution and defence presented their cases." The sentencing comes just days after the swearing in of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has vowed to return Egypt to stability rather than pursue democratic freedoms.

Ruling aims preventing critics running in elections

Since Sisi ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last July, the authorities have waged a harsh crackdown on Morsi's supporters as well as the secular opposition.

Seif said "the real objective of such rulings... is to prevent those criticising the regime from running in the (upcoming) parliamentary elections." The...

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