FILE - Defendants are seen standing behind bars in a Cairo court.
FILE - Defendants are seen standing behind bars in a Cairo court.

An Egyptian court has convicted 23 young pro-democracy activists of staging an illegal demonstration and sentenced them to three years in prison, even in the face of international calls for their release.

The activists were arrested in June allegedly for violating a law that bans all but police-sanctioned protests, The ban is seen as part of a continuing crackdown on dissent in Egypt by the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Defense lawyer Ahmed Ezat said the verdict was legally flawed.

"I believe that the sentence is politicized. It has no legal ground. We cannot simply hold a trial for 23 defendants who have different legal positions and different relationships to the actions they were attributed," said Ezat.

Some of the activists had supported the military's overthrow last year of the democratically elected government of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. But they since have turned against the el-Sissi government with its severe restrictions on street protests.

A Cairo judge on Sunday also fined the activists about $1,400 apiece.

Among the defendants were Yara Sallam and Sanaa Seif, described by Amnesty International as "prisoners of conscience."

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