Egypt jails 152 over anti-government protests

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Cairo (AFP)

Egyptian courts have handed out jail sentences on the weekend to 152 people for taking part in unlicensed anti-government protests, judicial officials and lawyers said on Sunday.

The rulings were issued on Saturday by separate courts, with a first group of 51 people sentenced to two years in jail and later in the evening 151 others given five-year sentences for the same reasons.

International and domestic rights groups accuse President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi of running an ultra-authoritarian and repressive regime with zero tolerance for dissent in a crackdown that has been escalating since he deposed in 2013 his democratically elected Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi.

The defendants were among scores who were detained on April 25 during or on the sidelines of anti-government protests, including against Egypt's decision to handover to Saudi Arabia two Red Sea islands.

"We are in a state of shock since yesterday," defence lawyer Mohamed Abdelaziz, director of Al-Haqanya foundation of rights and freedoms, said on Sunday.

Their verdicts can be appealed.

"The whole case is built on random arrests," said rights lawyer Mokhtar Mounir from the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.

He said most of the defendants were aged between 20 and 25 and that many had been arrested arbitrarily by the police as they were out on the streets or in cafes but not taking part in any demonstration.

Police had quickly dispersed protests against the islands deal on April 25 and arrested dozens of people. Prosecutors charged them with participation in illegal rallies.

The deal to hand over the islands in the Straits of Tiran had galvanised dissidents who oppose Sisi.

In the leadup to the protests, police already made dozens of arrests to discourage a repeat of a large rally on April 15 at which demonstrators chanted for the "fall of the regime".

The government says the islands had always belonged to Saudi Arabia and that Egypt had merely administered them while on lease since the 1950s.

Critics accuse Sisi of "selling" the islands in return for Saudi investments.

Since Morsi's ouster authorities have banned all but police-approved rallies in line with a presidential decree and overseen a crackdown that has killed hundreds of Islamist protesters and thousands imprisoned.

Several secular and leftist activists who spearheaded the 2011 uprising against longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak have also been jailed