CAIRO — An Egyptian judge sentenced Sunday 36 students from an Islamic university in Cairo to four years imprisonment for taking part in a protest against the overthrow of the former Islamist president that turned violent, court officials said.
The verdict against the students is part of a government campaign to crackdown on protests following the military ouster of Mohammed Morsi in July in the wake of massive rallies against him. The crackdown has largely affected Islamist supporters of Morsi— but the dragnet has been widened to include secular and non-Islamist critics of the current government's campaign to quell dissent.
Thousands of Morsi supporters and leading figures in his Muslim Brotherhood group are behind bars on charges varying from holding illegal protests to inciting and carrying out violent attacks and cooperating with foreign militant groups to destabilize Egypt. More than 1,300 were also killed in the security crackdown on protests.
The Brotherhood denies it adopts violent means and accuses the government of seeking to smear its name.
Students have been at the forefront of the protest against Morsi's ouster, mostly in the Islamic university of Al-Azhar, but also other Egyptian universities.
The 36 students were arrested in December following protests on and outside the Cairo branch of Al-Azhar University. They were accused of blocking roads, attacking security and setting tires on fire. The students were also fined $4,300 each.
Judge Mahmoud Magdali acquitted one of the arrested, a journalist, the court officials said speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The Al-Azhar students' spokesman, Mahmoud al-Azhari, denounced the ruling on Facebook, calling it part of a "farce."
"The military is using the honorable judiciary to terrorize the free students thinking that this will quell the student movement," he wrote.
The turmoil in Egypt has also included violent attacks against security forces and the military, most claimed by militant groups who say they are avenging the authorities' crackdown on Islamists and protesters. The government says more than 400 policeman and military troops were killed in that violence.
On Sunday, security officials said suspected militants attacked an army convoy in the restive Sinai Peninsula, killing one soldier and wounding another.
The officials said militants believed to be members of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Champions of Jerusalem, an al-Qaida-inspired group, opened fire on the convoy south of the town of Sheikh Zuweyid and fled the scene. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to speak to journalists.
On Saturday, Egyptian prosecutors charged 200 suspected members of the group with carrying out over 50 terrorist attacks that killed 40 police officers and 15 civilians in recent months.
Associated Press writer Ashraf Sweilam contributed to this report from el-Arish, Egypt.