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Published: Saturday December 7, 2013 MYT 10:30:01 PM
Updated: Saturday December 7, 2013 MYT 10:31:11 PM

Jailed Islamist women to go free, Egyptian court rules

Alaa Osama al-Araky, 22, who was found guilty along with other women and girls of obstructing traffic during a pro-Islamist protest in October, smiles during an appeal hearing at a court in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, 230 km (143 miles) north of Cairo December 7, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Alaa Osama al-Araky, 22, who was found guilty along with other women and girls of obstructing traffic during a pro-Islamist protest in October, smiles during an appeal hearing at a court in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, 230 km (143 miles) north of Cairo December 7, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

ALEXANDRIA (Reuters) - Fourteen Islamist women jailed for 11 years for demonstrating in Egypt will be released after a court slashed their sentences in a case that had outraged opposition groups and human rights campaigners, judicial sources said on Saturday.

Seven girls aged under 18 had also been sent to juvenile prison in the same case last month for obstructing traffic and damaging property during a pro-Islamist protest in October.

An appeals court in Alexandria has now reduced the sentences of the 14 women to one-year suspended terms, while a juvenile court put the teenagers on probation for three months. Once the paperwork is completed, they will all be released.

Security forces have tried to crush the Muslim Brotherhood since the army ousted Egypt's first freely elected leader, Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, on July 3. His supporters have staged frequent protests calling for his reinstatement.

The army-backed authorities accuse the Brotherhood of violence and terrorism, charges it denies. Hundreds of Mursi supporters have been killed and thousands arrested. Mursi and other Brotherhood leaders are on trial for inciting violence.

Gamal Eid, a human rights activist, said the sentences against the female protesters had been politically motivated.

"There is no independent judiciary in Egypt," he told Reuters. "They (the judges) were looking at the girls' background instead of their actions. Now they have tried to fix the first decision and it makes more sense."

In a separate case, a court acquitted 155 Mursi supporters of committing violent acts and damaging property in protests on Egypt's October 6 national holiday, the state news agency reported.

Protests are a sensitive issue in the country of 85 million people where people power has helped topple two presidents in less than three years. Veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak was ousted after a popular uprising in 2011, while the army removed Mursi following mass protests against his one-year rule.

The army-backed interim government passed a law last month tightly restricting protests by requiring police permission for any public gathering of more than 10 people.

The army's roadmap for political transition could lead Egypt to presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

(Reporting by Abdelrahman Youssef; Writing by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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