Egyptian women and girls freed after outcry over jailing

Fourteen Egyptian women sentenced to 11 years in jail for allegedly joining an Islamist demonstration appeal against convictions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 December, 2013, 7:35pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 December, 2013, 7:09am

Egyptian appeals courts ordered the release yesterday of 21 women and girls jailed over a protest in support of the ousted Islamist president, in a case that sparked a public outcry, after reducing their sentences.

To chants of "God is greatest" from supporters in an Alexandria courtroom, the 14 women - initially jailed for 11 years - 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. Images of the white-clad defendants also galvanised the Islamist opposition.

All 21 were convicted of taking part in a violent protest demanding Islamist president Mohammed Mursi's reinstatement following his overthrow by the army in July.

Wearing handcuffs but holding red roses, the 14 women appeared yesterday 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 and suspended it.

Their lawyer Ahmed alHamrawy 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 dictator Hosni Mubarak, Mursi's predecessor.

He later welcomed the new sentences. "The sentence is satisfying to a degree, and it has a humanitarian aspect ... but we will appeal," Hamrawy said.

Heba Morayef, Human Rights Watch's director in Egypt, said the women and girls should not have been sentenced in the first place.

"They didn't have any evidence tying the women to the commissioning of any violence," she said.