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Former Egyptian Presidential Candidate Sentenced to 5 Years Hard Labor

A criminal court has sentenced former Egyptian parliament member and presidential candidate Ayman Nour to five years of hard labor. Nour was arrested on forgery charges in January and released after six weeks. He was arrested again early this month, a move his lawyer took as confirmation that Mr. Nour would be convicted.

Egyptian politician Ayman Nour and two co-defendants were convicted of forgery and sentenced to five years of hard labor Saturday. Nearly 100 people rallied on Mr. Nour's behalf outside a criminal court in the Cairo neighborhood, Nasr City. The group gathered there for an all-night vigil and chanted support until the verdict was read.

Gameela Ismail, Mr. Nour's wife, organized the rally. She said no one, including his lawyer, was allowed to see Mr. Nour, who has reportedly been on a hunger strike for about two weeks, although he is diabetic.

Before the announcement, hundreds of riot police cordoned off the courthouse entrance. Ms. Ismail said the security presence did not bode well for her husband.

"I'm not at all optimistic. Just having a quick look around, you won't find anything that can give you any optimism regarding this verdict or the sentence. I mean, as you can see, thousands of soldiers, hundreds of thugs, and it is a preparation for conviction," she said. "If he is convicted, it is a politically motivated conviction."

Mr. Nour placed a distant second to President Hosni Mubarak in September's presidential election. He and five others were charged nearly a year ago with forging signatures needed to register his political party, Al-Ghad, which means Tomorrow in English.

Mr. Nour has denied the allegations.

A lengthy wait preceded Saturday's announcement. At one point, a police officer threatened to remove Ms. Ismail and Mr. Nour's lawyer, Amir Salem, from the courtroom. He also threatened to remove journalists who did not find a seat. Many sat on the ground.

A judge entered and announced the verdict. Ms. Ismail then stood and shouted "God is great" and "Down with Hosni Mubarak" - a statement that was repeated by others in the courtroom.

Mr. Nour faced up to 15 years in prison and has been sentenced to five.

His lawyer, Mr. Salem, vowed to appeal the decision to the Cassation Court, Egypt's highest court of criminal appeal. He said the court in Nasr City has a history of deciding against political dissidents, mentioning Egyptian sociologist Saadeddin Ibrahim, who was sentenced in 2001.

He said, "This court has a black history in its judicial verdicts. Not a single verdict came out of this court that was not appealed and returned to the criminal court. This court follows a black line. This constituency in particular is always selected for political opposition. It is in this constituency that Saadeddin Ibrahim and others were previously sentenced. This is a political choice from the political circuit in Egypt. This constituency in particular was chosen through a political decision. This sentence against Ayman Nour is a political decision and not a judicial verdict."

Outside the courthouse, the protesters changed their chant of "Let us call for freedom. Ayman Nour is the symbol of patriotism" to, simply, "Unfair, unfair, unfair."