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Leading Egyptian rights activist fined for social media post

·3-min read
FILE - Hossam Bahgat sits for a photograph, in his office at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 7, 2011. A court on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, has found Bahgat, a leading Egyptian human rights activist, guilty of insulting a judicial election commission in a tweet he posted last year following a national vote. His group says the misdemeanor court in the capital of Cairo fined the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal rights, 10,000 Egyptian Pounds (around $640). (Sarah Rafea via AP, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

CAIRO (AP) — A leading Egyptian human rights activist was convicted Monday of insulting a judicial election commission and fined about $640, in the latest episode in the government's crackdown on dissent.

The prosecution of Hossam Bahgat has drawn international condemnation, including by the U.S. State Department. The large-scale jailing and silencing of critics is a key point of friction between Egypt and the Biden administration.

Bahgat had faced up to three years in prison and a fine of almost $21,000. He was not in custody during the trial, an exception to the common practice of lengthy pretrial detentions that have kept many behind bars for years.

Monday's conviction and sentence were handed down by a misdemeanor court in the capital of Cairo. In July, Bahgat had been ordered to stand trial on charges he insulted Egypt’s election authority, spread false news by alleging electoral fraud, and used social media to commit crimes.

The charges were based on a 2020 tweet in which he accused the election authority's chairman of mishandling the parliamentary vote held that year.

The Egyptian government has in recent years waged a wide-scale crackdown on dissent. It has jailed thousands of people, mainly Islamists, but also secular activists involved in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The Biden administration has said that human rights will be a priority in its relationship with Egypt, but has continued to supply the country with military aid and hardware. In September, the U.S. released nearly $200 million in military aid to Egypt but withheld another $130 million due to concerns over rights violations. American officials have long said that maintaining a relationship with Egypt is key to regional security.

Since 2016, Bahgat has been banned from traveling abroad and has had his personal assets frozen in connection with a separate, decade-long criminal investigation. In that probe he and many other activists have been accused of receiving foreign funding.

Bahgat, also an investigative reporter, was detained briefly in 2015 after publishing an article on the conviction of a group of military officers for allegedly plotting a coup in collaboration with Islamists. His arrest provoked a storm of condemnation from the U.N. and several Western governments. He was released after four days in custody.

Last week, the leading international rights group Amnesty International urged Egyptian authorities to halt their “relentless persecution” of Bahgat.

“These endless legal proceedings look like a clear reprisal against Bahgat’s storied legacy of defending human rights," the group said in a statement.

Bahgat's conviction came less than two weeks after a state security emergency court sentenced Zyad el-Elaimy, a prominent human rights lawyer and former lawmaker, to five years in prison. He had been convicted of conspiring to commit crimes with an outlawed group, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has banned as a terrorist organization.

The same court also sentenced journalists Hossam Monis and Hisham Fouad to four years in prison on the same charges.

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