Egypt’s Court of Cassation on Sunday overturned the five-year prison sentences of 35 Al-Azhar students, ordering a retrial. The students were charged [Tasnim News Agency report] with rioting, illegal protesting, resisting authorities and blocking roads. The rioting charges came as a result of 2014 riots on the Al-Azhar University [official website, in Arabic] campus, which became violent. The University, located in Cairo, was the site of multiple anti-government and pro-Morsi rallies in 2013 and 2014 following the ousting of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi [BBC backgrounder].
This ruling marks the second time in a week that prison sentences against Al-Azhar students have been cancelled. Last week, the Court of Cassation overturned the sentenced of 17 students charged with participating in December 2013 rioting, who had each been sentenced to three years in prison. Legal action was taken against many students who participated in the 2013 and 2014 riots. In November 2014 an Egyptian court referred [JURIST report] five students from the university to a military trial over the violent January protest, during which part of a campus building was torched. The referral was made possible under a newly passed law which expanded the army’s power to try civilians. In January 2014 a court sentenced [JURIST report] 26 Al-Azhar students to two-and-a-half years in prison each following a November protest.