Clashes have erupted between Egyptian security forces and protesters who took to the streets to denounce heavy sentences handed down to a group of 21 women and girls for holding a peaceful protest earlier this month.
Thursday’s unrest in front of Cairo University in the capital left one person dead, medical sources said.
Those thinking the authoritarian pharaonic style works will find it doesn't anymore. There will be a third wave of the revolution much more violent than before. We are witnessing a turning point.
The convicted protesters, who are supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, received 11-year prison sentences for forming a human chain and passing out flyers in the city of Alexandria. The youngest member of the group is 15-years-old.
Images from the Alexandria courtroom where they were sentenced on Wednesday showed the group, wearing white headscarves and prison uniforms, handcuffed in the defendants’ cage.
Human rights organisations have also heavily critcised the ruling, saying it marks a bolder resolve by the military-backed government to stifle dissent.
Egypt’s army-backed government passed a law earlier this week that restricts demonstrations.
“There has been an uproar and I have to say that uproar is across the board. Many Egyptians looked at these girls, all dressed in white, sitting in a criminal cage, and looking so young,” Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Cairo, said.
“They were sentenced for obstructing traffic, for possessing illegal tools that could harm other citizens, for thuggery and for other minor crimes that certainly don’t deserve such a hard sentence, and have many people here [wondering] where the country is heading and how far this will go.”
The new law bans public protests or political gatherings of more than ten people organised without a permit from Egyptian authorities. The government plans to impose steep fines and jail terms for violators.
‘A necessary step’
The country’s interim prime minister defended the new law as a “necessary step” on Wednesday.
But hundreds of protesters opposed to both Morsi and the government gathered Cairo for a rally against the law.
“Those thinking the authoritarian pharaonic style works will find it doesn’t anymore,” said protester Laila Soueif. “There will be a third wave of the revolution much more violent than before. We are witnessing a turning point.”
Egyptian activist Yasmin Refaei described the arrests as a “tactic by the state to discourage and scare women away from protests”.
The controversial law comes ahead of an election season that will include a referendum on amendments to the Morsi-era constitution.