Egypt Women Protesters Have Sentence Reduced from 14 Years

Following a national outcry and appeals from human rights groups, an Alexandria appeals court significantly cut down the sentence of 14 female Egyptian protestors Saturday. The women, who'd been accused of attacking security forces and inciting violence, had been sentenced to eleven years and a month in jail after attending a small rally outside a university last month. They had their terms reduced to a more reasonable a suspended sentence of one year. Seven more girls — all under the age of 18 — also had their sentenced changed, from an indefinite period of detention down to three months' probation.

The court's initial heavy prison sentence, given back in November, shocked government supporters and critics alike. The 21 females had been convicted of taking part in a "violent protest" that called for ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's reinstatement — they were given six years of jail-time for violating Egypt's terrifying Public Assembly Law by holding an "illegal gathering"; four years for "thuggery," a year for "possessing weapons" and another month for criminal damage. Little was given in the way of proof, however, and human rights groups pointed out the blatant unfairness in the trial.

According to the Human Rights Watch, "the judgment identified a single weapon it claims protesters carried: rocks. However, it provided no evidence that the accused women had themselves carried or thrown rocks." Really.

And it didn't stop there: "Human Rights Watch’s review of the court’s judgment and evidence found that the defendants’ rights to a fair trial appear to have been violated by the failure to allow any witnesses to testify in their defense. There also appeared to be no credible evidence in the court’s ruling that any of the 21 were engaged individually in the alleged crimes, " the group said.

Thankfully, Saturday's ruling, according to the women's lawyer, al-Shimaa Saad, means the protestors will be allowed to go home soon, after over a month in custody. "Thank God the girls will be going home. That is what we cared about," said Saad. "But the ruling today is still a conviction, a sentence they don't deserve."

He makes a fair point. The women's conviction sits in harsh contrast to the lax punitive measures taken by the government in response to the security forces' crackdown on demonstrators — over 1,300 protesters have been killed by security officials over the last five months alone. Only one investigation has been opened. To make matters worse, thanks to a draconian new law that was signed last month, security forces now have the power to bar any protests or public gatherings, if they receive information that the gathering “threatens public safety or order” — but just what a threat would be, or what kind of information is needed, is up for interpretation. Between the government's harsh grip on the opposition and the country's pervasive sexual harassment, female protestors are facing a difficult time. Luckily, they are a force to be reckoned with.