Rights and political groups came out en masse to celebrate the Saturday ruling that dramatically reduced the prison sentences for 21 female protesters in Alexandria; however, they remain critical of the court.
The defendants, from the pro-Morsi “7am” protest movement, had originally been found guilty of acts of violence, encroachment on public and private property and the possession of melee weapons.
The 14 adult defendants were handed 11-year prison sentences, while seven minors were ordered into a juvenile facility until their 18th birthdays, at which point their cases would be re-evaluated.
Saturday’s Sidi Gaber Minor Offences Court acquitted the minors and handed the adults a one year suspended sentence, meaning they will avoid additional prison time.
“We think that the initial verdict was a politically motivated,” said Rawda Al-Sayed, director of the legal support unit at the Arab Network for Human Rights Information. “It wasn’t logical, and didn’t comply with the laws. The change that happened yesterday indicated that there was a lot of political pressure and the court responded.”
Ahmed Ezzat, a social rights lawyer from the Association for Free Thought and Expression, said that there was no evidence against the protesters, and he found the original guilty verdict as a sign of a problematic judicial system in Egypt.
“We’re demanding that the courts and judges make a separation between their personal opinions and the law,” said Ezzat.
“There is no justice. This is very dangerous in the role of law, the role of democracy. Anybody who has a position in the state can make a case against anyone because of his position, not because of the law or anything else.”
The National Council for Women lauded the ruling as “a victory for Egypt” in a written statement, while still acknowledging the protesters’ guilty verdict.
“As Egyptians search for a return to normalcy, these court decisions demonstrate that our country can balance the need for stability and security with due process and the right to free expression, despite the wrongdoing by obstructing law and order by these young girls.”
Anti-Coup Alliance member Mahmoud Zaid credited the court’s ruling on pressure from continued protests by young supporters of Morsi.
“The acquittal is part of the impact of the uprising happening now by the students and the youth,” said Zaid. “The impact is coming from the large-scale protests at the universities and in the streets.”
The Tamarod campaign, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International failed to return requests for comment.