CAIRO — An Egyptian court has sentenced 102 Islamist supporters of ousted former President Mohamed Morsi to 10 years in prison for rioting and possession of weapons. Many sentences handed down by Egyptian courts are later reduced on appeal.
The judge pounded his gavel to signify that the court session had ended after sentencing 102 Islamist defendants to 10 years in prison. The men were accused of rioting with intent to cause violence and damage property and illegally possessing firearms.
The ruling, which may be appealed, relates to violence last July in Cairo's al-Zaher district in which one man died. That death, in accordance with Egyptian law, allowed the prosecution to charge the defendants with murder.
Unlike several recent cases in the southern city of Minya in which hundreds of defendants were given the death penalty, no harsh verdicts were handed down Saturday. International critics have blasted Egypt for issuing hundreds of death sentences in the Minya cases, but many of those verdicts will be quashed and other cases will be retried.
In a separate case being tried Saturday, an Egyptian judge allowed three journalists working for al-Jazeera English TV to be released from their metal cages to briefly address the bench.
One of the three journalists questioned the bench about judicial procedure in his case, before pointing out that Saturday's session was taking place on International Press Freedom Day. No verdict was reached, however, and the trial was adjourned until May 15.
A fourth journalist, employed by al-Jazeera TV's al-Jazeera Direct network was ordered detained for another 45 days, in an unrelated case. Abdallah Shamy is also reported to be on a hunger strike and al-Jazeera TV says that his weight has dropped by 40 kilos.
Lucie Morillon of Journalists Without Borders tells VOA that World Press Freedom Day is a good time to remember the al-Jazeera TV journalists and others being held for doing their jobs.
She says that May 3 is a time to honor those journalists who fight to provide us the news and it is distressing to see many journalists, including those of al-Jazeera TV, imprisoned in Egypt. She argues that the Egyptian government is trying them for "disseminating false information," but she thinks they are being persecuted for supporting or defending the Muslim Brotherhood.
Saturday was the first official day of campaigning for Egypt's May 26 and 27 presidential election and Hamdeen Sebahi, who will face off against former defense minister Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, addressed his supporters. Sebahi told the audience that “if elected, the government will serve the people, rather than the people serving the government.”
Al-Arabiya TV reported that General Sissi began his campaign by inaugurating the hashtag “Tahiya Masr,” or “Hail Egypt.”
Egypt's Electoral Commission is also investigating charges that Sebahi announced his electoral platform before the campaign officially got under way. It is not clear what, if any punishment will be meted out for the alleged infraction.