Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)
Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Tip of the iceberg?

Last week’s presidential pardons are met with calls for more prisoners to be released. Ahmed Morsy reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 23 September, hours before departing for New York to attend the UN General Assembly, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi pardoned 100 prisoners.

A statement from the presidency said Al-Sisi had issued “presidential pardons for young people sentenced in cases involving the violation of the protest law or assaulting police forces and others for health-related and humanitarian reasons”.

“Among the most prominent names included in the presidential decree are Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmi and his colleague Baher Mohamed and political activists Omar Hazek, Peter Galal Youssef, Sanaa Seif, and Yara Sallam.”

Presidential decree 386/2015 coincided with the Muslim feast of Eid Al-Adha.

“The latest pardons are part of an initiative, launched by the president in December 2013, to release young detainees,” said presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef. 

Twenty-two of those pardoned, including Seif and Sallam, were sentenced to prison in October 2014 for violating the protest law in what came to be known as Al-Ittihadiya case. Eighteen, including activist Hani Al-Gamal, were among the 21 defendants sentenced to three to five years in prison in the Shura Council protest case. Alaa Abdel-Fattah, whose name was not included in the pardon, was among the convicted.

Alexandrian activist and poet Hazek, sentenced to two years in prison in January 2014 for participating in an unauthorised protest in December 2013, was freed while Mahinour Al-Masri, a co-defendant in the same case, was not. 

Fahmi and Mohamed received sentences of three and four years last month. Charges faced by the Al-Jazeera employees included membership of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and undermining national unity and security.

Fahmi, who was detained in December 2013, had dual Egyptian-Canadian nationality. He later relinquished his Egyptian passport in the hope of being deported like his Australian colleague Peter Greste.

“The presidential pardon is a positive sign,” says veteran political activist and member of the National Council for Human Rights George Ishak.

Ishak says he is looking forward to more young activists being released.

“There is reluctance among young people to engage in politics,” he says. “These presidential pardons are an important step in restoring young people’s confidence in the political scene and should be extended to all imprisoned activists not involved in criminal cases.”

Political analyst Gamal Zahran says the “long overdue” pardons can help build confidence between the authorities and young people.

International NGOs welcomed the presidential pardon but demanded more of the same.

On the day the pardons were decreed Amnesty International issued a statement insisting “further action to seriously address the appalling human rights record under Al-Sisi, including the intolerance of peaceful dissent and criticism of the authorities” was needed.

“While these pardons come as a great relief, it is ludicrous that some of these people were ever behind bars in the first place. Hundreds remain behind bars for protesting or because of their journalistic work. All those jailed for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association or because of their journalistic or human rights work must have their convictions quashed and be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Said Boumedouha, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International.

“Those pardoned today include only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of people across the country who have been arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully detained. These pardons will be little more than an empty gesture if they are not followed up by further releases of those arbitrarily detained, greater respect for the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and accountability for perpetrators of gross human rights violations.”

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said Washington welcomed the pardons as “a positive step for the freedoms of press and expression… essential for a stable, prosperous, and democratic Egypt”.

Rights activist Mona Seif, whose sister Sanaa was among those pardoned, posted on Facebook that “it is unjust to pardon 100 or 200 when the prisons are full of thousands of innocents, including children”.

“There’s an imbalance in this world when children aren’t the first to be released on a pardon,” wrote Seif. She cited the case of 16-year-old Soheib Emad who has already been in prison for 19 months pending trial.

 “We still have many jailed. Free all the innocent and replace them with the murderers and the corrupt,” activist and rights lawyer Gamal Eid posted on his Twitter account.

Political satirist Bassem Youssef wrote on Twitter that “Freedom is a right and it is not a gift from those who do not have the right to do so.”

“Congratulations,” Youssef told the released. “Forgive us for our complete inability. Wishing all the jailed to be pardoned.”

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