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Egypt: Prosecutor orders release of several political prisoners

Lawyers say authorities are due to release a number of political activists and journalists as part of presidential pardon initiative
The Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre in Badr city, 65km east of Cairo, during a government-guided tour for the media (AFP)

Egyptian judicial authorities on Sunday ordered the release of a number of political prisoners as part of a presidential pardon, lawyers and activists said.

Lawyer Tarek el-Awadi, a member of the Presidential Pardon Committee, said on his Twitter account that the tranch of detainees named by the Supreme State Security Prosecution included translator Kholoud Saeed, activist Sameh Seoudi, and journalist Khaled Ghoneim.

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The three were arrested separately between 2019 and 2020 and charged with “spreading false news, joining a terrorist group, and using a website with the aim of committing a crime.”

Awadi had previously announced that the pardon committee had received a letter from a number of human rights organisations with a list of names of detainees that are eligible for release.

He pointed out that a first group of detainees will be released on Monday and another on Thursday.

Another member of the committee, MP Mohamed Abdel Aziz, also announced on Sunday that "within 24 hours or a little more, a new group of detained youth will be released”.

Meanwhile, lawyer Khaled Ali said that activist Abdelrahman Tarek (Mokka) and opposition politician Mohamed Mohie el-Din will also be released.

On the same day, however, Ali announced the appearance of photojournalist Mohamed Fawzy Massad Mustafa at the Supreme State Security Prosecution.

He was interrogated in connection with Case 440 of 2022 over a social media post in which he criticised insufficient efforts to release political prisoners, Ali explained.

“The prosecution charged Fawzi with joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media," Ali said on his Facebook page on Sunday.

Lawyer Khaled al-Masry also announced on Sunday that the Cairo Criminal Court acquitted four defendants, Khaled Fikri Hassan, Ahmed Mahmoud Mohamed Mahmoud, Ahmed Abdel-Al Fazza, and Hossam Mahmoud Abdel-Moneim, who had been charged with “publishing false news and misusing a private account on Facebook”.

Thousands remain in prisons

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has repeatedly denied that his country holds any political prisoners, but his administration has recently launched an initiative to pardon prisoners detained in connection with political cases. 

More than half of all prisoners in Egypt are political, according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

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The number of prisoners in the country totalled 120,000 in March 2021, at least 26,000 of whom were held in pre-trial detention.

The Presidential Pardon Committee, tasked with facilitating prisoners’ release, was launched on 26 April during Ramadan, the month when presidential pardons have traditionally been handed out.

Following the move, more than 3,000 prisoners were reportedly released, as well as a number of high-profile political prisoners, including Hossam Moniss, a prominent leftist organiser and journalist. Most of those released were not political prisoners, however. 

Sisi rose to power after ousting Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, in a 2013 military coup.

Since then, his government has targeted members and supporters of Morsi's administration in a widespread crackdown. More recently he has also targeted the secular opposition.

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