Egyptian Blogger Sentenced Amid Opposition Crackdown

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An Egyptian blogger who was an emblem of the democracy movement was sentenced Monday to five years in prison as the government cracks down on opposition.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Back in 2011, Egyptian bloggers helped drive the uprising that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak. Now they feel they're under constant attack from the country's current leadership and the courts which have taken a hard line on all forms of dissent. In the latest sign of that clampdown, one of Egypt's most prominent bloggers was sentenced today to five years in prison. NPR's Leila Fadel was in the courtroom in Cairo and sent this report.

HASSAN FARID: (Foreign language spoken).

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Judge Hassan Farid read the verdict against blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah and 24 other defendants. They were found guilty of violating a controversial law against unlicensed protests among other charges. The 20 defendants in court were given between three and five years. The rest were sentenced to 15 years in absentia. The courtroom erupted in anger.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in foreign language).

FADEL: Fellow activists chanted, "down, down with military rule." They stood on the courtroom benches, pumping their fists in the air, vowing that the revolution would continue.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Crying).

FADEL: Relatives sobbed uncontrollably over what they say is deep injustice. Ahdaf Soueif is a prominent novelist, activist and Abdel Fattah's aunt. She spoke outside the courtroom.

AHDAF SOUEIF: In a way we were prepared because the proceedings have all been a travesty of justice. But even so, when it happens, it still takes your breath away.

FADEL: Abdel Fattah was a pro-democracy symbol of Egypt's 2011 revolt. He protested against Mubarak, and he protested against abuses under the authorities that followed. Now his imprisonment highlights the current government's crackdown on free speech. There are thousands of activists - or alleged activists - in jail from across the political spectrum. Two of the men convicted today were from the liberal Constitution Party - one, an American-educated father of three, another, a 21-year-old student.

KHALED DAWOUD: People, like, from the Mubarak regime - all the officers are charged with killing of hundreds. All these guys get released, and our guys get three and five years.

FADEL: That's Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman for the Constitution Party. The message, he says, is no to real politics and no to dissent. The last conviction against Mubarak was overturned in January. And the ousted president could technically walk free any day now. Meanwhile, human rights groups say barely anyone from Egypt's police force has been held accountable for the killing of hundreds of peaceful protesters over the last four years. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.