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Sisi pardons hundreds of Egyptian prisoners, including prominent journalist

The list includes female members of the Muslim Brotherhood and a prominent editor jailed for 'insulting the judiciary'
Journalist and editor Abdel Halim Qandil received a presidential pardon on Thursday (Facebook)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi issued presidential pardons for 560 prisoners on Thursday, including journalist Abdel Halim Qandil, according to the official state gazette.

The decision includes pardons for 15 women, eight of them political detainees and two affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, human rights researcher Ahmad Attar told Middle East Eye.

The pardon, which repeals all verdicts and their related jail sentences issued since 2013, coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The list includes a large number of defendants who had been facing military trials, according to Attar.

Qandil was serving a three-year jail sentence on charges of "insulting the judiciary". The 65-year old is a journalist and editor of the previously opposition, now pro-government, weekly Sawt al-Omma.

He is the former spokesperson and a founding member of the Kefaya movement, a grassroots political coalition that was established in 2004 to oppose Hosni Mubarak's presidency and the possibility of his son Gamal Mubarak succeeding him.

Qandil is a staunch opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood, backing the coup against president Mohammed Morsi in 2013 and coming out in support of  Sisi's government.

However, it was under Sisi's rule that the journalist was detained, banned from travel, and his newspaper confiscated.

On 30 December 2017, Qandil was found guilty of insulting the judiciary over an interview with Rotana TV in 2011 in which he criticised the judiciary and the military leadership for their handling of the corruption case against Mubarak.

Egypt's highest appeals court upheld the sentence on 15 October, and he was taken to custody that day.

Qandil's presidential pardon, according to local media, was for health reasons.

There have been several rounds of prisoner releases under Sisi, often coinciding with public holidays. But the general's government has also been notorious for its sweeping arrests, many of them for political activity.

Amnesty International raised fears of another potential crackdown on Friday after reporting that authorities arrested labour lawyer Haytham Mohamdeen and activist Mostafa Maher this week.

"These latest arrests have reignited a climate of fear amongst independent activists and human rights organisations about a renewed assault by the Egyptian authorities on the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly," said Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International.

Amnesty has called for their immediate release.

Human rights groups have documented at least 60,000 political prisoners in Egyptian jails since Sisi came to power in 2013 after toppling Morsi. Sisi denies that Egypt has any political prisoners.