By Mick Krever, CNN
Few cases exemplify the state of Egypt today like the arrest of Ola Ezzat.
She and 20 other young women and girls – seven of them underage – were at a peaceful, pro-Muslim Brotherhood protest in Alexandria when they were picked up the police.
They were sentenced to 11 years plus one month in prison.
On Thursday, CNN’s Christiane Amanour spoke with Ola’s father, Alaa Eldin Ezzat, from Cairo.
“She is strong,” Ezzat said, whose wife visited their daughter earlier in the day. “She sent a message saying that ‘I will continue what I am doing and I am proud of it.’”
Ezzat was himself beaten at a demonstration in Alexandria during the violent and confusing end of the Mohamed Morsy presidency last summer.
“Initially, we felt a severe pain because of my daughter Ola’s situation,” he said. “But I understood later on, I realized that it's not about my daughter or the family at all.”
“It's a matter that involves all Egyptians. Because the purpose is to instill fear in Egyptians' hearts so that they do not go out and protest and demand their rights.”
The Human Rights Watch director of the Middle East, Heba Morayef, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday that she believes the Egyptian state is trying to use the harsh sentence to send a message to all activists: “stop protesting.”
“My daughter was raised to speak her mind freely,” Ezzat said. “Her biggest guilt was that she raised the Rabaa sign, and that sign represents to us perseverance, legitimacy, freedom.”
That sign – four fingers raised in the air – is used by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He said that his family’s life had changed “completely” since the military ousted President Morsy in July.
“On the Egyptian TV they say that if your neighbor belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood you have to report him to the authorities,” he said. “Also, at the same time, what they say in the Egyptian TV is that any participants in peaceful demonstrations have to be stoned.”
He knew the climate against Muslim Brotherhood supporters was harsh, but it was hard to predict the severity the punishment that his daughter faces.
“When we saw the courthouse from outside we noticed this, the security forces surrounding the building as if it was a military facility,” he said. “So…we expected such a harsh judgment. But what we didn’t expect is that number of years.”
He does not believe that his daughter will end up serving the 11 years to which he was sentenced.
“I am hopeful that God will make justice win, and that she will be released soon for her family,” he said.
“Honestly, regarding the girls, they are in good morale. But they feel oppressed and that sense of oppression has increased their persistence because they know that they were not arrested for a criminal activity but because of their belief in their political cause.”