Egypt jails three over constitution boycott campaign

The three members of the Strong Egypt party were sentenced to three years in jail

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An Egyptian court Tuesday sentenced three members of a political party to three years in jail for campaigning for the boycott of last month's constitutional referendum, judicial sources said.

The referendum was the first step in a roadmap outlined by Egypt's interim authorities for a return to democratic rule after Islamist president Mohamed Mursi was ousted by the military in July.

The three members of the Strong Egypt party, founded by former presidential candidate and ex-Muslim Brotherhood member Abdelmoneim Abul Futuh, were also fined 500 Egyptian pounds each (around $70, 55 euros), the sources said.

They were accused of being members of a “terrorist armed gang whose aim was to disturb public peace and security and disrupt the state's interests... and inciting citizens to boycott the constitution (referendum),” one of the sources said.

The three accused, who were tried in absentia, can appeal the verdict and be granted a retrial if they surrender to authorities.

They were briefly arrested in January in a northern Cairo neighborhood for hanging posters in the streets calling on residents to boycott the referendum or vote against the constitution, the sources said.

The new constitution -- which grants the military extensive powers but lacks much of the Islamist-inspired wording of the 2012 charter adopted under Mursi -- was approved by a 98.1 percent margin.

The run-up to the referendum was marred by arrests of activists who campaigned against the new charter.

Activists who spearheaded protests against Mursi and his predecessor Hosni Mubarak have repeatedly accused the military-installed authorities of resorting to autocratic measures.

The government in November adopted a law banning all but police-sanctioned protests and several activists were handed jail sentences for organizing or taking part in unlicensed demonstrations.

A government crackdown on Islamist supporters of Mursi has left more than 1,400 people killed in street clashes since his ouster.

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