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Egypt: Sisi pardons journalist, more than 3,000 prisoners

Presidential pardons are often handed out before the end of Ramadan, though Sisi is thought to have jailed around 65,000 political prisoners since coming to power in a 2013 coup
A police officer stands outside the entrance to al-Qanatir women's prison, at the tip of the Nile delta in Qalyoubiya province, on 27 December 2020 (AFP)
A police officer stands outside the entrance to al-Qanatir women's prison, at the tip of the Nile delta in Qalyoubiya province, on 27 December 2020 (AFP)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has pardoned a journalist who was jailed for "spreading false news", along with more than 3,000 prisoners, local media and officials said on Wednesday.

Hossam Moniss, a prominent leftist organiser and journalist, was sentenced to four years' imprisonment in November over the charge, which is frequently levelled against dissidents in Egypt.

Moniss' pardon was reported by local media on Wednesday, while Tarek al-Awady, a lawyer and member of the recently re-formed Presidential Pardon Committee, tweeted: "Congratulations, Hossam Moniss has been pardoned."

The interior ministry said in a later statement that 3,273 prisoners convicted in criminal cases had also received presidential pardons.

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Moniss was arrested in 2019 along with a number of opposition figures preparing to run for the "Hope Coalition" in the 2020 parliamentary elections.

An emergency court convicted Moniss and five others, including former lawmaker Ziad el-Elaimy, a prominent figure in Egypt’s 2011 revolution who is still in jail, to between three and five years in prison.

Amnesty International had condemned the sentencings, saying all involved "were subjected to a litany of human rights violations" and "should never have been arrested in the first place".

News of his pardon came just days after 41 political prisoners were released from pre-trial detention, including Radwa Mohamed, who was arrested in 2019 for criticising the regime amid rare protests calling for Sisi's removal from office. 

It is not uncommon for presidential pardons to be handed out before the Eid holiday marking the end of Ramadan, which falls on May 1 this year.

Rights groups have long called for the release of the tens of thousands of political prisoners held in the country’s jails since Sisi came to power in a coup in 2013.

According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the total number of prisoners in Egypt in March 2021 was 120,000, with an estimated 65,000 political prisoners - at least 26,000 of whom were held in pre-trial detention.

Sisi launched a "national strategy" for human rights in September last year, insisting that education, health and electricity were more important than freedom of assembly, which is virtually forbidden in the country.

This week, four social media comedians were arrested on charges of terrorism and spreading false news after posting a song online that satirised the authorities' failure to rein in rampant inflation. 

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