Egypt activist Alaa Abdul Fattah jailed for 15 years

image copyrightAP
image captionMr Abdul Fattah is viewed as an icon of the 2011 revolution

A court in Egypt has sentenced one of the country's most prominent pro-democracy activists, Alaa Abdul Fattah, to 15 years in jail for illegal protest and attacking a police officer.

Mr Abdul Fattah's family said the verdict was issued in absentia as he was refused entry into the court.

Mr Abdul Fattah played a key role in the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak.

The sentence comes three days after ex-army chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi took office as president.

The authorities have cracked down harshly on Islamists and secular activists since former President Mohammed Morsi was removed by the military in July 2013.

Hundreds have been killed and thousands arrested.

'Concerns about democracy'

Mr Abdul Fattah was arrested in November after taking part in a protest calling for the repeal of a new law that banned unauthorised demonstrations.

On Wednesday, his mother Laila Soueif told the BBC Mr Abdul Fattah had not been allowed into the court for the verdict.

"Alaa and his lawyers were outside the court. They were refused entry," she said.

"There was not justification for the judge to issue this verdict in absentia... we expected a court hearing with the prosecution and witnesses speaking.

image copyrightReuters
image captionMr Sisi won May's elections with nearly 97% of the vote

"I believe that the judicial system in Egypt has nothing to do whatsoever with law and justice."

She added that the family would challenge the verdict.

The campaigner was previously detained under Mr Mubarak's government and questioned over demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

The harsh sentence will deepen concerns about democracy and free speech in Egypt, the BBC's Orla Guerin in Cairo reports.

In a recent BBC interview, Mr Abdul Fattah said the authorities intended to jail him for a very long time, and the current regime was worse than Mubarak's, our correspondent adds.

image copyrightReuters
image captionActivists have demonstrated against a crackdown on activists and a law restricting protests

The new president, Mr Sisi, won 96.9% of the vote in May's elections.

However, turnout was below 50%, as Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and some liberal and secular activists urged a boycott of the poll.

Mr Sisi's victory came almost a year after he ousted Mr Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, following mass protests against his rule.

Mr Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, stepped down after mass anti-government protests in 2011, following nearly three decades in power.