CAIRO, Egypt, May 12 – An Egyptian judge sentenced seven alleged Muslim Brotherhood members to life in prison, for blocking a highway and damaging a security post outside of Cairo last summer, after security forces violently broke up sit-ins supporting the ousted Islamist president, the country’s top prosecutor said.

The sentence, issued by the criminal court of the Nile Delta city of Benha, was described in a statement from the chief prosecutor office as a “deterrent.” The announcement follows another stiff ruling earlier Sunday, sentencing 36 students from an Islamic university in Cairo, to four years imprisonment, for taking part in a Dec protest against the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi.

The verdicts are part of a government campaign to crackdown on protests, following the military ouster of Morsi in July in the wake of massive rallies against him. The crackdown has largely affected Islamist supporters of Morsi— but has been widened to include secular and non-Islamist critics of the current government’s campaign to quell dissent.

The government passed a draconian protest law late last year that bans all political gatherings and protests without prior permission from the police, and imposes heavy fines and jail times for violators and for the use of violence.

Thousands of Morsi supporters and leading figures in his Brotherhood group are behind bars, on charges varying from holding illegal protests to inciting and carrying out violent attacks and cooperating with foreign militant groups to destabilise Egypt. More than 1,300 were also killed in the security crackdown on protests.

The Brotherhood denies it adopts violent means and accuses the government of seeking to smear its name.

The sentence against the seven alleged Brotherhood members dates back to an incident in Aug, following the dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-in, when they were arrested for burning tires and blocking a major highway in Bahteem, outside of Cairo, firing shots in the air and damaging a police post, the prosecutor’s office said. At least 1,300 were killed in the sit-in dispersal and ensuing violence.

Prosecutors accused the seven in Mar, of illegal gathering, use of violence, resisting authorities and membership in the Brotherhood, which the government has declared a terrorist group. The sentence was issued Saturday but announced by the prosecutor Sunday.

Since the crackdown on Morsi supporters, students have been at the forefront of the protest against his ouster.

The 36 students were arrested in Dec following protests on and outside the Cairo branch of Al-Azhar University. They were accused of blocking roads, attacking security and setting tires on fire. The students were also fined $4,300 each.

One journalist was acquitted, court officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

The Al-Azhar students’ spokesman, Mahmoud al-Azhari, denounced the ruling on Facebook, and said, the military-backed government “is using the honorable judiciary to terrorise the free students’ thinking that this will quell the student movement.”

The turmoil in Egypt has also included violent attacks against security forces and the military, most claimed by militant groups, who say they are avenging the authorities’ crackdown on Islamists and protesters. The government says, more than 400 policeman and military troops were killed in that violence.

On Sunday, security officials said, suspected militants attacked an army convoy in the restive Sinai Peninsula, killing one soldier and wounding another.

The officials said, militants believed to be members of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Champions of Jerusalem, an al-Qaeda-inspired group, opened fire on the convoy, south of the town of Sheikh Zuweyid and fled the scene.