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Police arrest head of defense team for female Egyptian protesters

Students backing Mohamed Morsi shout slogans during a demonstration on December 1, in Cairo.

Story highlights

  • Lawyer Ahmed El-Hamrawy was arrested at his home in Alexandria at dawn Monday
  • Fellow lawyer: "This means that any lawyer who comes close to the case will be detained"
  • 14 women, seven girls were accused of illegal gathering, thuggery, weapons possession
  • They were arrested at a demonstration for ousted President Mohamed Morsy

Police on Monday arrested the head of the defense team for the 21 women and girls sentenced for protesting in Egypt last month, a colleague and member of the defense team told CNN.

Lawyer Ahmed El-Hamrawy was arrested at his home in Alexandria at dawn Monday, lawyer Mahmoud Farouq told CNN. "I can't separate his arrest from the girls' case," said Farouq, who is part of the team defending the 21 jailed protesters. "This means that any lawyer who comes close to the case will be detained."

Gen. Nasser El-Abd, the head of the Alexandria Criminal Investigation Department, told Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm that El-Hamrawy was arrested with five others for "incitement of violence."

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On Wednesday, 14 women were sentenced to 11 years in prison, and seven minors to juvenile detention, on charges of gathering, thuggery and weapons possession at a demonstration for ousted President Mohamed Morsy. The harsh sentence sparked wide criticism of the way the Interior Ministry and the judiciary have been handling the cases of Morsy supporters. An appeals hearing for their case is scheduled to take place Saturday.

"We don't have any doubt that this verdict is a new episode in a series of politicized judicial rulings, which include the sentencing of several Al-Azhar students to 17 years for various misdemeanors based on accusations that are mostly trumped up and generalized," said a joint statement issued by 14 rights groups last week.

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    The verdict coincided with an increasing crackdown on non-Islamist activists who oppose the military-led regime and Morsy. Prominent activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, detained during the Mubarak and the military council regimes in 2006 and 2011, is being held pending investigations for his alleged involvement in calling for a demonstration. Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, is also being questioned about similar charges.

    Legislation restricting demonstrations reignited confrontations between police and the non-Islamist opposition, especially at university campuses across the country. A demonstration coinciding with the retrial of two policemen accused of killing Khaled Saied, whose death had fueled the uprising in 2011, was dispersed with force in Alexandria on Monday.

    "El-Hamrawy was part of Morsy's opposition. He demonstrated against him on June 30, but he's been involved in defending freedoms since July 3," when the military removed the Islamist President from power, Farouq told CNN. "He's being punished for that."

    Read: Prison sentences for women as Egypt clamps down on protest