Egyptian authorities today released nearly two dozen Islamist women and girls convicted for staging a street protest. Their release comes after an appeals court reduced harsh penalties—including prison terms of 11 years—to suspended sentences. The initial verdict handed down late last month caused an international and domestic outcry. "This is God-given," Ola Alaa, an 18-year-old medical student sentenced, tells the AP. Authorities "thought they would scare us" with the penalty, "but it backfired. More people went out to protest."
The 21 defendants, who included seven teenagers, were held in custody for over a month. The 14 women were originally sentenced to 11 years in prison after being convicted in connection to an Oct. 31 protest in support of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. The minors were ordered held until they turned 18, when their cases would have been re-evaluated. The group faced charges including "thuggery" and the use of weapons, the latter for allegedly having thrown rocks. Defense lawyer al-Shimaa Saad said women received one-year suspended sentences while the minors' sentences were reduced to three-month probation.