33 students from Al-Azhar University were sentenced to one year in prison after a Cairo court refused their appeal Sunday. The defendants were arrested on campus on charges of protesting without permit.
Although the defence appealed against the evidence gathered by the prosecution, the court dismissed the defence’s argument, and accused the students of belonging to an illegal group, destroying public properties, terrorising citizens, possessing fireworks, and working on challenging the country’s constitution, according to state media.
Since the beginning of the semester, scores of students from Al-Azhar University have been arrested, referred to military courts, or expelled.
In a recent development, on the prosecution’s order, six female students from Mansoura University had their detention renewed for 15 more days pending investigations. They were arrested on 6 January and referred to the prosecution, El-Marsad Student Observatory reported.
The six are charged with “rioting and threatening national security,” the observatory added.
As exams are taking place in public universities, minor protests have been staged by anti-government students, amid attempts by the universities’ administrations and security forces to control demonstrations.
Egyptian authorities have referred hundreds of civilians, including students, to military courts following President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s decree expanding military courts’ jurisdiction to include anyone who attacks the state’s “vital” facilities.
Various human rights organisations condemned the law, including Human Rights Watch, which stated that the law gives military courts “the widest legal authority since the birth of Egypt’s modern republic in 1952”.
Since the start of the academic year on 11 October, 2014, over 300 students have been arrested, while tens have either been expelled by universities or referred to investigation, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE).
AFTE published its weekly report documenting violations against students, reporting that security forces stormed into the dormitories of Al-Azhar University last Tuesday. The report added that in Fayoum, four faculty members were sentenced to two years on violence charges.
Students Against the Coup (SAC), an anti-government student group active in several universities, has been staging protests since the ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
The group has been vocally campaigning to stage mass protests on 25 January, to mark the fourth anniversary of the revolution that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, which will take place next Sunday.
Similarly, the Muslim Brotherhood has repeatedly called for protests on the same day.
The calls were met with warnings by Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim, who told state media Saturday that the police and army are ready to counter the “spreading cancer” ahead of the 25 January Revolution anniversary.