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Egypt court jails 78 teenagers as crackdown continues

Mass trials of Morsi supporters have seen hundreds sent to prison [AFP]

Date of publication: 27 November, 2014

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A court in Egypt sentences 78 teenage boys to between two and five years in prison for joining protests demanding the return of the ousted Islamist president, as cabinet approves draconian anti-terrorism draft law.

An Egyptian court sentenced 78 teenage boys to between two and five years in prison Wednesday for joining protests demanding the return of the ousted Islamist president.

The authorities have engaged in a crackdown on Mohamed Morsi's supporters since the army deposed him last year, with hundreds jailed in mass trials the United Nations has described as "unprecedented in recent history". 

'Unprecedented' crackdown

Wednesday a court in the city of Alexandria sentenced 78 boys who are under 18 for joining the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood's rallies in the past three months, a judicial official said.

While the judicial sources said the boys were aged between 13 and 17, their defence lawyer said the youngest was 15. 

"The 78 minors, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were arrested for participating in protests organised by the group calling for the downfall of the regime in which they blocked roads and transportation, and terrified citizens," state agency MENA reported.  They will be held in juvenile detention until they turn 18, when they will be transferred to adult prison. 

Last December, the government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a "terrorist organisation". 

"The number of children jailed since Morsi's ouster is unprecedented," said Ahmed Messilhy, head of a committee to defend children at Egypt's lawyers syndicate. 

Defence lawyer Ayman El Dabi said he planned to appeal the ruling within the next few weeks.  The defendants, he said, were arrested at several protests over the past year and had been in detention since.   Some were not even protesting and "were in the wrong place," he added. 

Since Morsi's ouster, the government has launched a crackdown against his supporters that has left at least 1,400 people dead and more than 15,000 behind bars. 

A number of Brotherhood leaders, including Morsi himself, are facing trials in several cases that might result in death sentences. 

Death sentences

Dozens of Islamists have already been sentenced to death in mass trials.  Morsi was overthrown after millions took to the streets demanding his resignation after just one year in office, accusing him of monopolising power and ruining an already weak economy. 

The authorities accuse the Brotherhood of planning and carrying out deadly attacks targeting security forces since Morsi's ouster. The movement has regularly condemned these attacks.  These attacks have been claimed by militant groups who say they are in retaliation for the crackdown on Islamists. 

The most active such group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which claimed an attack that killed 30 soldiers on October 24 in North Sinai, recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, which has seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Anti-terrorism law approved

The court’s verdict came as Egypt's cabinet approved a draft anti-terrorism law that would give the government blanket power to ban groups on charges ranging from harming national unity to disrupting public order.  

The government already has broad security powers and has been able to exercise them largely at will - jailing thousands of Morsi supporters and more recently many leading lights of the 2011 uprising.   

The draft legislation, however, would help enshrine the security crackdown in the criminal code by permitting authorities to classify groups as "terrorist" according to a long list of offences. 

"A terrorist entity is considered any organization... which practices or seeks in any way to disrupt public order or exposes society's integrity, interests or security to harm," the draft legislation reads. 

Any group designated as terrorist would be dissolved, the draft stipulates. It also allows for the freezing of assets belonging to the designated group, its members and financiers.  

The government is already able to seize Brotherhood assets based on a specific court order; the new legal draft would ease such action against other groups.

The proposal must be approved by a judicial advisory body before Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as head of the armed forces ousted Morsi in July 2013 and was elected president in May this year, can sign it into law.

 

 

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