Egypt jails Ahmed Maher and other secular activists

Political activists Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma (L) and Mohamed Adel (R) of the 6 April movement look on from behind bars in Abdeen court in Cairo, December 22, 2013. The jailing of the three pro-democracy campaigners will deepen concern among Egyptians over a crackdown on dissent

Three prominent Egyptian activists from the 2011 uprising that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak have been sentenced to three years in jail.

Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel were found guilty of organising a recent unauthorised protest.

They were arrested after protesting in November over a new controversial law that restricts demonstrations.

The move will deepen concern in Egypt about a growing crackdown on dissent, says the BBC's Orla Guerin in Cairo.

Controversial

The three well-known activists have long called for greater democracy in Egypt.

Analysis

Egypt's military-backed authorities could hardly have chosen more high-profile democracy campaigners for prosecution. Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohammed Adel were at the forefront of the 2011 revolution.

Mr Maher, founder of the 6 April Youth Movement, was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2011. Mr Douma, who has been jailed several times, is regularly seen leading chants at demonstrations.

The jailing of three leading secular activists will deepen concerns - in Egypt and the West - about a growing crackdown here. Islamists were the initial focus; several thousand have been detained.

But it is clear the net has spread to include liberals. Dozens of have been rounded up for breaching the controversial protest law under which the three were convicted. Human Rights Watch described their trial as "classic authoritarianism" and said it was part of a pattern of prosecutions.

Mr Maher and Mr Adel were founding members of the 6 April Youth Movement, which led protests to remove long-time President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The three were among a group of demonstrators outside the upper house of parliament in late November protesting over the new law, which states that public gatherings of more than 10 people must be authorised.

The military-installed government has defended the law, saying it is not intended to limit the right to demonstrate but rather to "protect the rights of protesters".

But its opponents say the law has in effect replaced a recently expired state of emergency, and is stricter than the measures in place during the rule of Hosni Mubarak.

The men are the first to be jailed under the new law. The court in Cairo found them guilty of holding a demonstration without authorisation and attacking police officers.

State-run television said the men had been sentenced to three years' hard labour. They have also been ordered to pay a $7,000 (£4,000) fine each.

As the verdict was read out, the courtroom erupted with chants of "Down, down with military rule! We are in a state, not in a military camp", Reuters news agency reports.

Until recently, the main targets for arrests by the authorities had been Islamists, many of whom continue to protest over the ousting by the military of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government of Mohammed Morsi in the summer after weeks of mass protests.

But recently dozens of liberal activists have been rounded up, our correspondent says.

The government maintains it is on the path to democracy, but that is not how it looks to many Egyptians, she adds.

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