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Alaa Abdel-Fattah, one of the leading opposition voices in Egypt, gets a 5-year sentence

He was convicted on charges of protesting and assaulting police

CNN  — 

Prominent Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah was sentenced Monday to five years in prison and fined $13,000 on charges of protesting and assaulting police.

Eighteen others were sentenced to three years in prison and also fined $13,000 each.

The case dates back to November 2013 when the controversial protest law was issued by the government. Dozens demonstrated against the military trial of civilians outside the Shoura Council where the committee writing the country’s constitution was meeting. Police later dispersed the crowd and arrested dozens of activists.

It was the first day the law had come into effect. Police accused demonstrators of failing to acquire permission. Activists who refuse to recognize the legislation say the police violated the law by using excessive force.

Ahmed Abdel-Rahman – who, like Abdel-Fattah, was also sentenced to 5 years – was not a protester, but a bystander who intervened to protect women assaulted by plainclothes policemen that day, lawyers told the court.

“It doesn’t make any sense. (Egpytian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi) says yesterday ‘I’m going to release the young people’ and today we get these sentences,” said Khaled Dawood, spokesman of the Constitution Party, in reference to el-Sisi’s speech the night before in which he announced the imminent release of youth wrongfully held in prisons.

Dawood told CNN this and similar sentences contribute to the closure of political space and dissuade youth from constructive political engagement.

The 24 defendants were previously sentenced to 15 years. This was their retrial, seen by the same judge presiding over the Al Jazeera journalists’ retrial. Five defendants didn’t file the appeal, were tried in absentia and consequently their 15-year sentences were upheld. One final stage of appeal is left.

Abdel-Fattah, one of the leading opposition voices, was repeatedly imprisoned by consecutive regimes. It’s the first time he has been convicted. Several other prominent activists – including his youngest sister Sanaa and Ahmed Maher, co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement – have been convicted of violating the protest law.