President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on Monday issued a presidential pardon for 203 prisoners, the second batch of releases as recommended by the Detained Youth Committee. The list comprised mainly prisoners who had received final prison sentences related to illegal assembly and protest.
Among those pardoned, five had documented health issues. Five are over the age of 60 and 14 are over 50 while the rest — 114 youths — are aged between 17 and 35. It also included one woman.
This is the second pardon recommended by the Detained Youth Committee for presidential review since its formation late last year. The committee was formed in late October following 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 (NCHR) member Mohamed Abdel-Aziz and Karim Al-Sakka, a former member of Al-Sisi’s electoral campaign.
Al-Khouli said all 203 prisoners were serving final sentences in cases regarding freedom of expression and publishing crimes. “The committee excluded Muslim Brotherhood members, whether or not they were involved in violence, as they pose a danger to society,” Al-Khouli told Al-Ahram Arabic website.
Since 2013, thousands of youths have been arrested under the controversial protest law currently being amended in parliament. In December 2016, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court issued a ruling deeming unconstitutional Article 10 of the protest law, which permits the interior minister to bar protests without court approval.
The ruling also stated that those looking to hold street protests should be obliged only to notify authorities, not obtain prior approval.
When the committee was formed it was initially decided that its work would span 15 days but it has since been decided that it will continue until further notice. Its 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.
Though Press Syndicate Chairman Yehia Qallash earlier stressed to Al-Ahram Weekly that the second list of presidential pardons would include a number of jailed journalists after the syndicate submitted to the committee a list of about 30 journalists currently in prison, no journalists were released.
“The second list of pardoned prisoners is mind boggling,” veteran political activist and member of the NCHR George Ishak told the Weekly. “Almost all the members of the Detained Youth Committee earlier stated that the second list will include about 400 pardoned prisoners,” Ishak said.
Various members of the committee have told the media that the second group would be significantly larger than the first while some specifically said it would reach 400 prisoners.
“We need to know why the number dropped from 400 prisoners to only about 200. We need more transparency,” Ishak told the Weekly. The community is bloated, he said, “and so we hoped the number of the second group would be larger than was initially announced in order to achieve a breakthrough and defuse tension”.
Though the second list which was received by the presidency from the Detained Youth Committee late in December was expected to be announced in January, it has been awaiting Al-Sisi’s approval.
“I think the postponement was to make it conform to Al-Sisi’s visit to the United States” scheduled in the next few days, Ishak said.
Earlier in February, the parliament’s Human Rights Committee started compiling the names recommended for inclusion in a third batch of pardoned prisoners.
The Detained Youth Committee receives suggested names of prisoners from parliament’s Human Rights Committee, the Press Syndicate, the semi-governmental NCHR and political parties. On its third list of detainees the committee prioritised those held in pre-trial jail in protest cases, as well as detained journalists.
“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 in February.
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.