CAIRO : An Egyptian appeals court on Monday upheld three-year prison sentences for three prominent activists charged with violating a controversial law restricting protests.The three, including the founder of the April 6 movement Ahmed Maher, rose to prominence in the 2011 uprising that toppled veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak. The interim government in place after the army overthrew president Mohamed Morsi in July jailed them for violating a law it had passed banning all but police-sanctioned protests. Maher, Adel and Ahmed Douma were charged with organising an unauthorised and violent protest in November, days after the passage of the law. The sentencing in Dec of the activists, members of a broad coalition of groups that supported Morsi’s ouster, had raised concerns of a return to Mubarak-era practices under the new regime.The ex-army chief who overthrew Morsi, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is running in elections next month. He has promised there would be “no return” to Mubarak’s era.The retired field marshal is expected to easily win the May 26-27 vote, riding on a wave of popularity for ending Morsi’s divisive year in power.But secular leaning activists have increasingly been targeted in an extensive crackdown on the opposition, mainly Islamists, that has seen an estimated 15,000 people jailed.Another prominent leftwing activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, is standing trial on similar charges to those the trio faced.Ahmed Seif, lawyer for Maher and his co-defendants, said they will appeal the ruling before the Court of Cassation and if that fails will take the case to the African Court of Human and People’s Rights.“There are no indications that the state is willing to loosen its grip,” Seif told AFP after the ruling.Critics say the government has given police a free hand to clamp down on dissent, amid a crackdown that has killed more than 1,400 people in street clashes since Morsi’s overthrow.Courts have tried hundreds of Islamists en masse, with one court sentencing 529 to death for allegedly participating in a deadly riot. That sentencing is likely to be overturned on appeal.Militants have also unleashed a deadly campaign against security forces that has killed nearly 500 policemen and soldiers in bombings and shootings since Morsi’s ouster.The government said last week it had boosted punishment for “terrorist” offences and expanded the scope of the crimes that fall under that category.The legal amendments will come in force when interim president Adly Mansour approves the government-penned draft.