The second batch of prisoners who will receive presidential pardons, which was expected to be announced in December, is still waiting the approval of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The presidency received the second list from the Detained Youth Committee early in December and is expected to announce the names within a few days. It was reported that it will include more than 300 names.
The first batch was announced on 17 November when Al-Sisi pardoned 82 prisoners who were recommended for a pardon by the committee. It included 22 students and 22 workers. The list also included TV presenter Islam Beheiri who was sentenced to one year in prison in December 2015 on charges of blasphemy after being initially sentenced to five years in May of the same year. The court, however, reduced the sentence to one year on appeal. Journalist Abdel-Aziz Mahmoud and photojournalist Mohamed Ali Salah were also among the detainees granted pardons.
Meanwhile, parliament’s Human Rights Committee started compiling the names recommended for inclusion in a third batch of pardoned prisoners.
“The committee began compiling and checking the names of suggested youth prisoners who will be included in the third list of the pardon,” MP Mohamed Al-Komi, a member of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, said. After the names are compiled, Al-Komi says, it will be sent to the Detained Youth Committee.
The committee receives suggested names of prisoners from parliament’s Human Rights Committee, the Press Syndicate, the semi-governmental National Council for Human Rights and political parties. The criteria set by the Detained Youth Committee for those who are recommended to be pardoned include not having committed acts of violence, incited violence or belong to a terrorist group.
The committee was formed in late October last year by a directive from Al-Sisi. Tasked with reconsidering the legal status of young prisoners, it is headed by prominent politician and member of the Free Egyptians Party Osama Al-Ghazali Harb and includes writer Nashwa Al-Houfi, MP Tarek Al-Khouli, National Council for Human Rights member Mohamed Abdel-Aziz and Karim Al-Sakka, a former member of Al-Sisi’s electoral campaign.
When the committee was formed it was initially decided that its work would span 15 days but it has since been decided that its work will continue until further notice. “The moment the committee no longer receives the names of prisoners and finishes examining the names received is the moment it will end its work,” Al-Khouli said.
“The committee already held its first meeting to prepare the third list of presidential pardons,” he said.
On its third list of detainees the committee prioritised those held in protest cases, as well as detained journalists. Since 2013, thousands of youths have been arrested under the controversial protest law currently being amended in parliament. According to the Press Syndicate, there are 28 journalists currently detained in Egypt.
“The list for the first time may include prisoners remanded in custody. Though pre-trial detention is not legally addressed to let detainees whose cases are pending investigation eligible for a pardon, the committee is looking at legal ways to render them eligible,” Al-Khouli said.
Under Egyptian law, individuals held in precautionary detention and whose names are still with the prosecutor-general do not qualify for a presidential pardon. Article 155 of the constitution stipulates that only “the President of the Republic may issue a pardon or mitigate a sentence after consulting with the cabinet.” Hence, the prosecutor-general holds jurisdiction in such cases until the amendment of the law or a new law is drafted to give the president the authority to pardon pre-trial detainees.
Late last month, the Interior Ministry released 77 prisoners on the occasion of Police Day which coincided with the anniversary of the 25 January Revolution. In a statement, the ministry said that the release was part of a penal policy which aims at releasing prisoners who it deems ready to re-integrate into society.
Earlier in October, the interior minister granted the release of 90 prisoners and the unconditional release of some others. Both came in accordance with a presidential pardon in honour of the 6 October War anniversary, according to state media. “This comes within the framework of the ministry of interior’s keenness to uphold the values of human rights and to apply the penal code,” a ministry statement said.