CAIRO -- An Egyptian court Sunday sentenced three prominent activists to three-year prison terms and heavy fines, state media reported, in what was seen by rights advocates as a worrying sign of the military-backed government's determination to suppress political dissent.
The three -- Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma -- are best known for leading roles in the 2011 uprising that toppled autocratic President
The unexpectedly harsh sentences provoked dismay among rights advocates, who have been feeling increasingly under siege at the hands of the interim government, despite its promises to return the country to democracy.
In the five months since Islamist President
But secular activists too, have been targeted -- particularly in the wake of a tough new law implemented last month that in effect criminalizes street protests.
All three who were sentenced Sunday were arrested under that law. Additional charges brought against them included assaulting police officers. The men were also each fined 50,000 Egyptian pounds, equivalent to about $7,250.
The harsh sentences come less than a month before a scheduled nationwide referendum on Egypt's newly rewritten constitution, a vote seen by the interim government as a crucial test of its legitimacy.
The sentencing also comes against the backdrop of an ongoing legal campaign against Morsi, who now faces three separate trials on an array of charges. The latest of those cases, stemming from a prison break, was referred to a criminal court Saturday, and provoked widespread derision because the indictment detailed accusations that Morsi and his co-defendants had stolen chickens from jailhouse supply stores.