CAIRO – A Cairo court acquitted on Wednesday 22 people on trial for protesting against a government decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, a judicial source and a defence lawyer said.
The ruling comes a day after Egypt’s administrative court annulled the maritime agreement, announced in April, that would have seen Egypt lose control of Tiran and Sanafir.
The accord had caused uproar and rare protests in Egypt, where many have long considered the islands Egyptian.
More than 200 people were arrested in connection with protests over the islands in April.
Since then, more than 150 have been handed jail sentences or fines, according to judicial sources. Wednesday’s verdict will bring to at least 107 the number of people acquitted.
The 22 who were acquitted on Wednesday had been sent to trial on charges of violating a protest law by demonstrating without a permit and blocking traffic.
“Maybe yesterday’s annulment encouraged the judge’s decision to acquit the defendants,” said Khaled Ali, a lawyer who was representing some of the accused.
The public prosecution can appeal the verdict, he said.
The prosecution did not issue any formal statement.
Saudi and Egyptian officials say the islands at the centre of the controversy belong to the kingdom and were only under Egyptian control because Riyadh had asked Cairo in 1950 to protect them. A court ruled on Tuesday, however, that Egyptian sovereignty over the islands held and could not be given up.
Egyptians are eager for economic revival after years of political upheaval. But the islands issue hurt national pride, prompting thousands of protesters to take to the streets in April chanting “people want the fall of the regime”, a slogan from the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.(Reuters)