Liberal Egyptian activists on trial
Egyptian prominent activists Ahmed Douma and Ahmed Maher react as they stand trial, Cairo, April 7, 2014. Photo by AFP
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An Egyptian appeals court on Monday upheld the jailing of three leading figures of the 2011 pro-democracy uprising, tightening a crackdown on secular activists opposed to the army-backed government

Last December, a court handed out three-year jail sentences to liberal activists Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel, for protesting without permission and assaulting the police.

The verdict was the first under a law passed by the government in November that requires police permission for demonstrations. The case stemmed from protests called in defiance of the law.

Already pressing a crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood movement of deposed president Mohammed Morsi, the authorities have arrested a number of secular activists in recent months ffor breaches of the protest law.

Critics see it as an attempt to stifle the kind of street activism common since the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak as the government proceeds with a new political transition plan.

"I was not expecting at all this sentence. I was certainly expecting it to be overturned. That's very bad news," said liberal activist Khaled Dawoud.

"That will definitely send a very negative signal to all the young people who supported the January (2011) revolution."

Human rights activist Gamal Eid tweeted "Down Down the rule of injustice" in reaction to the verdict.

Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, the general who toppled Morsi last July following mass protests against his rule, is expected to easily win a presidential election next month.

Sissi's supporters see him as a decisive figure who can bring stability. Islamist and secular opponents say he has helped turned Egypt into a police state again.