An Egyptian appeals court on Saturday gave one-year suspended sentences to 14 Islamist women for protesting in support of ousted president Mohamed Morsi [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], reducing their 11-year prison sentences. At the same trial, seven female teenage defendants who had been sentenced to imprisonment until they reached the age of 18 had their sentences reduced to three months probation. The female protesters were arrested in October and were originally sentenced last month in a decision that caused widespread outcry. Among other critics, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] called the case a political prosecution [press release]and asserted that the trial was unfair, as there was little evidence presented and no witnesses were allowed to testify on the protesters' behalf. Following Saturday's decision, the women, who have been in custody for more than a month, are expected to be released soon. While the lawyers representing the protesters are glad that the sentences have been reduced, they do plan to appeal to Egypt's highest appeals court to request that the convictions be overturned entirely.
This trial is yet another further attempt for Egyptian authorities to crackdown on protesters [JURIST report]. Egypt has faced political unrest since the Egyptian Revolution [JURIST backgrounder] began over two years ago. The Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court announced in February that it had rejected parts of the draft election law [JURIST report] that will govern the country's parliamentary elections. Earlier that month the Supreme Constitutional Court postponed ruling [JURIST report] on whether the legislative constitutional assembly that recently drafted a new charter was legitimate. The judges claimed a crowd of Islamists outside the courthouse of had intimidated the judges and blocked the entrance to the courthouse. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in late January voiced concern [JURIST report] over the growing violence and rising death toll in Egypt stemming from ongoing protests throughout the country. Earlier in January recently disposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi declared a state of emergency in an attempt to quell growing unrest and violent political protests in cities a day after nationwide unrest compounded following an Egyptian court ruling handing down 21 death sentences [JURIST reports] for a 2012 soccer riot that resulted in 74 deaths and thousands of injuries.