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Egyptian court sentences 22 to prison for Mahalla riots

An Egyptian state security court sentenced 22 people to between three and five years in jail on Monday for their part in riots which shook the Nile Delta in April.

The riots in the Nile Delta textile town of Mahalla el-Kubra, the worst in the country for many years, began as protests against sudden steep rises in the price of food. Three people were killed and more than 100 people wounded in two days of clashes with riot police. More than 300 protesters were detained, with most of them later released without charge.

The protesters pulled down a giant picture of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and shouted anti-government slogans. The government sent ministers to Mahalla to placate them and promise higher salaries for public-sector industries.

The court, which allows no appeal against its verdicts, found the 22 people guilty of a range of offences including arson, theft, destruction of public property and possessing weapons. They include students, workers, civil servants, unemployed people and one woman, who is on the run.

In a statement, the London-based human rights group Amnesty International called for a retrial by an ordinary court, and said a number of the men convicted had told the judges that they had been tortured to confess. But the courts did not order an investigation, and used those confessions to sentence the men, Amnesty said.

“Those sentenced today are scapegoats used by the authorities to hide their inability to adequately handle the Mahalla protests and to cover up for their failure to investigate the killing of three people,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy programme director.

The one man who received the five-year sentence was also convicted of attacking the police. Many of those acquitted faced lesser charges of illegal assembly. Some 300 relatives and friends demonstrated outside the courtroom in Tanta, demanding they go free.

The unrest among textile workers has diminished since early in the year, when month-on-month inflation peaked at 4 percent in January.

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