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Egyptian court's suspension of jail terms for activists viewed as intimidation tactic

| Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, 7:21 p.m.

CAIRO — It was a seemingly lenient sentence for charges of burning a political party headquarters a year ago — one year in jail, suspended for the next three years — but upon hearing the verdict on Sunday, supporters of the defendants were long-faced and despondent. They said they interpreted the three-year suspension as an effort to prevent the activists from protesting the government anytime soon.

“If they did what they claim, why a suspended sentence?” said Leila Soueif, the mother of two of the defendants. “Yes, it is suspended, but this is a baseless case. There is no justice in our system anymore.”

The primary defendants in the case, Alaa Abd el-Fattah and his sister Mona, had been leading figures in the 2011 protest movement that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. At one point, the government had even dropped the charges against them. But after the military retook control of the country on July 3, the charges were reinstated in what activists here say has been a concerted effort to eliminate political dissent.

The government crackdown has fallen hardest on the Muslim Brotherhood, whose leadership, including former President Mohamed Morsy, is in jail and facing charges. The organization is banned, and journalists risk arrest for reporting on the Brotherhood's activities. Three Al-Jazeera English journalists who were arrested in late December on charges that they were leading a terrorist cell were questioned again on Sunday.

But the crackdown has hit the so-called revolutionaries who were instrumental in toppling Mubarak and who had backed the military putsch against Morsy last summer. Now even those who were never Brotherhood supporters risk imprisonment on charges aimed to ensure the status quo. Many who remain free fear that they will be rounded up for talking about politics.

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