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Egyptian lawyer sentenced to 1 year in prison for fake news

March 10, 2020 GMT

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court Tuesday sentenced a prominent human rights lawyer and former lawmaker to a year in prison for his conviction on charges that rights advocates have decried as baseless and politically motivated.

The judge in Cairo’s misdemeanors court found Zyad el-Elaimy guilty of “deliberately spreading fake news.” He was also fined 20,000 Egyptian pounds (around $1,270).

El-Elaimy has appealed the ruling and will remain in detention until a hearing on April 7. He also faces charges in a separate case of conspiring with an outlawed group to commit crimes, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has banned as a terrorist organization. Police arrested el-Elaimy over those accusations last summer after he met with political parties and opposition lawmakers to hash out how to run in the 2020 parliamentary elections.

A vocal critic of el-Sissi’s government, el-Elaimy is a leading activist in the secular Egyptian Social Democratic Party. He served as a member of parliament after the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat President Hosni Mubarak.

The global rights watchdog Amnesty International condemned Tuesday’s decision as the latest sign of “the Egyptian authorities’ total intolerance” of dissent.

“The unfounded charges of which Zyad has been convicted stem solely from the peaceful expression of his opinion and his peaceful political activities,” said Philip Luther, the group’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

El-Sissi has overseen a sweeping crackdown on political opposition, silencing critics and jailing thousands. Many languish for months in pre-trial detention.

“Still, the cup remains half-full,” el-Elaimy’s mother, Ekram Yousef, wrote on Facebook. Tuesday’s open court session allowed el-Elaimy’s friends to catch their first glimpse of him in eight months.

“It was an opportunity ... to make sure they did not forget him, and to await the day that he is freed,” she said.