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Egypt sentences 2 men to life in prison, 1 to 20 years for sexual assaults in Tahrir square

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CAIRO - An Egyptian court sentenced two men to life and another to 20 years in prison on Thursday for sexual assaults on women during public rallies in the city's iconic Tahrir square, judicial officials said.

The prosecution had charged defendants with kidnapping, larceny, attempted rape, torture and attempted murder. The incident took place on June 3, during public celebrations of former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's victory in presidential elections.

The officials said Thursday's verdict is the latest in a series of prosecutions for sexual violence cases. In July, seven people were sentenced to life in prison over four different incidents of sexual assault. An eighth defendant received two 20-year jail sentences and a ninth received a single 20-year sentence. All sentences can be appealed.

Prosecutors said the defendants attacked a woman and her daughter, dragging the mother away and tearing off her clothes and beating her. When the mother attempted to flee, she ran into a container of boiling water at a nearby street vendor, causing her severe burns. Assailants circled the victim and stabbed her in the genitals with a sharp object.

Sexual harassment has long been a problem in Egypt, but during three years of unrest and massive protests, assaults increased and intensified at political rallies in Tahrir square. The square surged to fame during the revolt that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

In a separate development, an Egyptian court has asked the country's top Muslim cleric to review death sentences issued against the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader and 13 others for a second time.

The Grand Mufti offers his opinion in all death sentences in Egypt, although the recommendations are non-binding and are submitted to a judge, who makes a final decision. A second referral such as this one is rare.

According to the website of the Seventh Day newspaper, the Mufti said in his first opinion sent to the court that the case did not carry enough evidence for the death penalty as it is was built on the testimonies of policemen without any other evidence.

The case stems from violence that took place last summer after the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The fighting in front of the Istiqama mosque in Cairo's twin city of Giza killed 10 people and left 20 injured.

Prosecutors had charged the defendants with planning or participating in riots, murder, sabotage of public property and using force against security forces. The judge has set Aug. 30 as the date for the verdict. Badie has already been sentenced to death in another case where the verdict has been confirmed by a court after the Mufti's opinion, but can also face appeal.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

The government has cracked down hard on Morsi loyalists and supporters since his ouster, leaving hundreds killed and thousands in jail.

Also on Thursday, court officials said Egypt's Mubarak-era steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz will be released on bail worth millions of Egyptian pounds after nearly three years in detention over several corruption cases.

As a top leader of Mubarak's ruling party and a close associate of his son who was being groomed as a possible successor, Ezz was arrested during the uprising that forced Mubarak from power.

He has been convicted twice and still faces retrial in several corruption cases.

Mubarak's party has since been disbanded and many of his close associates were arrested. Mubarak himself and his sons are also in prison facing several charges including involvement in the killing of protesters during the uprising.

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