An Egyptian court on Sunday handed down life prison sentences to 38 people, including a self-exiled businessman whose social media posts helped spark anti-government protests, The Associated Press reported.

A series of video and other social media posts by Egyptian businessman Mohamed Ali, who now lives in Spain, led to scattered street demonstrations in September 2019 over allegations of corruption and other issues, noted the report.

23 of those who got life terms were tried in absentia, including Ali, an Egyptian criminal court handling terrorism-related cases said.

The court also sentenced 44 others including children to terms ranging from five to 15 years in prison over the same charges. 21 were acquitted, according to defense lawyer Ossama Badawi.

Those sentenced were convicted of a set of charges that included inciting violence against security forces and state institutions. The case stemmed from the 2019 protests in the port city of Suez that sits at the mouth of the Suez Canal, according to AP.

Authorities arrested hundreds of people at the time in Cairo and across the country. Many were released but others were referred to trials.

Rights groups have repeatedly criticized such mass sentencings in Egypt and called on authorities to ensure fair trials.

Under the rule of general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, authorities have launched a broad crackdown on dissidents, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed and designated a terrorist organization in Egypt in December of 2013.

Sisi led the military ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2013 and won back-to-back landslide elections after running virtually unopposed.

In April of 2019, Egypt's parliament overwhelmingly approved constitutional amendments allowing Sisi to stay in power until 2030.