Egyptian authorities arrested two pro-democracy activists who played a significant role in the 2011 ouster of then-president Hosni Mubarak for inciting protests on Wednesday, implementing a controversial new anti-demonstration law passed by Egypt’s interim president on Sunday. The high-profile arrests coincide with the sentencing of 21 female protesters to years-long prison terms for rallying in favor of deposed president Mohamed Morsi. Fourteen women will spend 11 years incarcerated and seven girls, who are underage, will be held at a juvenile detention center until they turn 18. The Associated Press describes the scene at the court house and, previously, on the streets:
Images from the courtroom in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria showed the 21 young female defendants in white head scarves and white prison uniforms, handcuffed in the defendants cage... A day earlier brought other harsh scenes: Security forces beating and dragging female secular activists on the ground during a protest outside parliament. Pole detained 14 women, then drove them in a van through the desert where they were dropped off on a remote road in the middle of the night in a move to intimidate them, several of the women said.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for a repeal or alteration of the broad law, which she said “leaves the door open to a very restrictive and repressive interpretation.” From the U.N.:
The new law prescribes a list of escalating measures that law enforcement authorities can employ, after issuing warnings, to disperse unruly demonstrators. These include tear gas, water cannon, smoke grenades, warning shots, rubber bullets, and even live ammunition which is prohibited by international standards except in unavoidable instances in order to protect lives.
According to The Guardian, non-Islamists — who have largely refrained from joining Islamists in rallying for Morsi — recently began partaking in demonstrations against the military, so fed up are they with their anti-democratic rule. Now, the anti-protesting law affirms some Egyptians’ fear of losing even more of their democratic rights. Egypt’s interim leaders will hold a referendum on the country’s constitution in December, as a step towards elections of a new ruling cabinet.