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News: Egyptian court cuts sentences for female protestors (Time)

TURKEY-EGYPT-POLITICS-UNREST-DEMOEgyptian authorities released two dozen Islamist women and girls  convicted for staging a street protest after an appeals court reduced their  harsh penalties on Saturday.

The initial verdict handed down late last month caused an international and  domestic outcry.  “This is God-given,” Ola Alaa, an 18-year-old medical student who was  initially sentenced to 11 years, told The Associated Press by telephone after  reaching her home in the coastal city of Alexandria. “I think (the authorities)  wanted to calm things down,” she said.

The 21 defendants, who included seven teenagers, were held in custody for  over a month.

The 14 women, mostly around the age of 20, were originally sentenced to 11  years in prison after being convicted in connection to an Oct. 31 protest in  support of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. The minors were ordered held until  they turned 18, when their cases would have been re-evaluated. The group faced  charges including “thuggery” and the use of weapons, the latter for allegedly  having thrown rocks.

Defense lawyer al-Shimaa Saad said women received one-year suspended  sentences while the minors’ sentences were reduced to three-month probation.

Human Rights Watch called the sentences “blatantly political” and said the  court had violated the right to free trial, by failing to allow witnesses to  testify in the women’s defense, and providing little evidence for the charges  they faced. Egyptian activists, including many critics of the Islamists, saw the  sentences as evidence of the new military-backed government’s intolerance for  opposition.

The government says the crackdown is necessary as the three years of turmoil  that followed Egypt‘s 2011 uprising  have done crippling damage to the economy. It accuses Morsi supporters of  seeking to destabilize the country. But few officials came forward to defend the  sentences passed on the women.

“They thought they would scare us” with this sentence, Alaa said. “But it  backfired. More people went out to protest … I myself will go down to protest  starting tomorrow. We are steadfast.”

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