A criminal court in Egypt's capital Cairo sentenced journalist Ali Abdeen to two years in jail for covering massive protests against the government over granting control of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, various news outlets reported Tuesday.
But Abdeen is among 50 other people sentenced to prison terms on charges of inciting illegal protests and allegedly publishing false news, although he did receive the harshest sentence.
Cairo has been the stage for massive protests in the last few weeks, including one by medical workers and another by people ourtraged over statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that in 2011 when Egyptian demonstrators raided the Jewish state's embassy, in Cairo an Israeli commando was going to be sent without the consent of the local government.
At least 33 more journalists were detained April 25, but the majority of them were later released, according to Egyptian NGOs and news websites.
“Egyptian authorities insist on punishing the press for merely reporting the news while denying, with a straight face, that journalism is the reason for these arrests,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “We call on Egyptian authorities to release Ali Abdeen immediately and to not contest his appeal.”
Egypt has the world's second worst record of jailing journalists, with 23 behind bars, the CPJ added.
The arbitrary arrest of journalists and conviction of people comes days after an Egyptian court sentenced 152 protesters on Saturday to between two and five years in prison each, after they demonstrated against a decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, judicial sources and state media said.
Hundreds of police officers were deployed in central Cairo on April 25 to quell protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's decision to hand over Tiran and Sanafir islands.
More than 200 people are being tried in connection with the protests, the judicial sources said.
The 152 protesters were convicted of breaking a law banning people from protesting without first notifying the Interior Ministry, the judicial sources said.
Defense lawyer Ahmed Helmy said they would appeal. "There is no evidence of guilt," he told Reuters.
In similar protests, on April 15, thousands of people had called for "the fall of the regime", a slogan from the 2011 uprisings which ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule and briefly brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. More than 100 people were detained at those protests, security officials said at the time. Most were later freed without charge, judicial sources said.
Saudi and Egyptian officials say the islands belong to the kingdom and were only under Egyptian control because Riyadh had asked Cairo in 1950 to protect them.