Blogger Who Led Protests Is Given a Five-Year Sentence in Egypt

A blogger who came to be one of the best-known faces of the 2011 uprising in Egypt was sentenced to five years in prison on Monday, part of the military-backed government’s continuing crackdown on dissent.

The blogger, Alaa Abd El Fattah, 33, comes from a prominent family of left-leaning activists and writers. He was convicted of taking part in an unauthorized November 2013 demonstration against military trials of civilians, as well as related charges like rioting and disturbing the peace. In addition to the prison sentence, he was fined $13,000 by the court in Cairo.

Another defendant who was arrested at the same street protest received the same sentence on Monday, and as many as two dozen more were given three-year sentences and the same fine. Mr. Abd El Fattah apparently got a stiffer penalty than most because he led calls for the protest.

The courtroom, packed with reporters, activists and relatives of the defendants, erupted into chaos as soon as the verdict was read. Chants of “down with injustice” turned into chants of “down with military rule.”

Ahdaf Soueif, a novelist and Mr. Abd El Fattah’s aunt, called the court’s decision “a travesty of justice” that, though it was expected, still “takes your breath away.” Mr. Abd El Fattah’s lawyers said they would appeal.

The verdict came a day after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former general who led the military takeover in 2013, promised in a televised speech to address the problem of what he called “innocent youth who may have been wrongfully imprisoned” in Egyptian jails during the crackdown. Mr. Sisi said he would seek to release some of them. But his government has shown no intention of curbing the sweeping restrictions on public protests that were applied in this case.

A number of young leaders of the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak have been jailed since July 2, 2013, when the military took over. But Mr. Abd El Fattah has special prominence for Egypt’s left-leaning, non-Islamist opposition. He pioneered a movement by young activists to capitalize on the freedom of the Internet to speak out against Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarianism, and he has been a thorn in the side of each successive government since then.

The Mubarak government jailed him for 45 days for participating in a 2006 demonstration for judicial independence. The military council that took power from Mr. Mubarak jailed Mr. Abd El Fattah for a time in 2011. After Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected president in 2012, his government called Mr. Adb El Fattah in for questioning and raised the prospect of another detention. And most recently, the current government jailed him for his role in the demonstration against military trials, which was held outside a legislative building and was quickly dispersed with tear gas and water cannons.

Mr. Abd El Fattah and the other defendants were initially convicted last June and were given 15-year sentences, but an appeals court threw out those verdicts and sentences and sent the case back to be tried again. The retrial stalled in September when a judge recused himself without explanation and released the defendants on bail. But the defendants were arrested again the next month and the trial resumed.

Judge Hassan Farid, who issued the verdict on Monday, gave no explanation for it in the courtroom. Egypt’s flagship state newspaper, Al Ahram, later reported that the judge said the court had applied the “utmost levels of leniency,” noting that the usual minimum penalty for unauthorized demonstrations is seven years in jail.

Omar Robert Hamilton, a filmmaker and activist who is a cousin of Mr. Abd El Fattah, wrote in a recent essay for the online publication Mada Masr that Mr. Abd El Fattah was “for this state, is a symbol. A symbol of everything that they don’t understand about the riotous, enervated, flammable youth of this country.”

Mr. Hamilton wrote that he feared the worst for the instigators of Egypt’s uprising: “The unstoppable wave that swept us all forward three years ago has retreated, leaving the vanguard to drown.”

Mr. Abd El Fattah’s family said that he was conducting a partial hunger strike
to protest his incarceration. His sister, Sanaa Seif, is also in prison, serving a three-year sentence handed down in October for participating in a different unauthorized demonstration.

Other prominent figures in the 2011 uprising who are in prison on similar charges include Ahmed Maher, leader of the April 6 Youth Group, and Ahmed Douma, another left-leaning activist. Thousands of Islamist demonstrators are in jail as well, as are many of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, the mainstream Islamist group that backed President Morsi.