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U.N. demands release of Egyptian activists

The convictions of Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel were the first against pro-democracy protesters since July 3

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The United Nations on Tuesday demanded the release of three Egyptian activists jailed for three years for organizing an unauthorized protest, a spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office said.

The convictions on Sunday are “of great concern”, Ravina Shamdasani said, calling for the “immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners detained solely in connection with peaceful protests, unless the authorities have solid evidence (of) recognizable criminal offences.”

The convictions of Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohammad Adel were the first against pro-democracy protesters -- as opposed to Islamists -- since the July 3 overthrow of President Mohammad Mursi, whose Islamist supporters have borne the brunt of a deadly crackdown.

“Participation in peaceful protests and criticizing the government should not be grounds for detention or prosecution,” Shamdasani added in a statement.

The statement said “dozens of individuals, including students, have been arbitrarily detained and some convicted following what appears to be the exercise of their legitimate rights to peaceful assembly and expression” in Egypt.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also joined the chorus of criticism, saying via spokesman Martin Nesirky that the convictions were “contrary to the spirit of Egypt’s revolution nearly three years ago.”

Ban also “reminds Egyptian officials that freedom of assembly and expression are essential elements for credible elections,” Nesirky added.