Egypt court overturns jail terms for 47 protesters
CAIRO - An Egyptian appeals court has overturned five-year prison sentences for 47 people for participating in unauthorised protests, but upheld fines of more than $11,000 each, judicial officials said Wednesday.
The defendants were among more than 150 people sentenced to jail in mid-May in connection with demonstrations on April 25 against Egypt's decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
Rights campaigners accuse President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of crushing dissent since he deposed his democratically elected Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Lawyer Mokhtar Mounir, who represented several of the defendants, criticised the fines of 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($11,260) upheld by the Cairo appeals court on Tuesday evening as "exorbitant".
He said the defendants must pay at least a quarter of the fine before they are released. If they cannot pay they will serve three months in jail.
"It means that the accused must buy their freedom with money," Mounir said, adding that the defence would lodge another appeal.
Human Rights Watch on Wednesday called on the authorities to free and drop charges against the defendants and to release hundreds of others in pretrial detention "on charges that violate freedom of peaceful assembly and speech".
"Egyptian authorities are using national security threats to crush dissent among Egypt's youth," said the New York-based watchdog's Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Nadim Houry.
"This is a policy of insecurity, not security, leaving young people unable find the smallest space for peaceful dissent that won't land them in jail," said Houry.
The deal to hand over the islands in the Straits of Tiran had galvanised dissidents who oppose the former army chief.
The government says the islands had always belonged to Saudi Arabia and that Egypt had merely administered them while on lease since the 1950s.
Critics accuse Sisi of "selling" the islands in return for Saudi investments.
Since Morsi's ouster authorities have banned all but police-approved rallies in line with a presidential decree and overseen a crackdown that has seen hundreds of Islamist protesters killed and thousands imprisoned.