The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has welcomed the decision by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to pardon two Al-Jazeera journalists, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who were recently convicted of reporting false news.
But the US-based watchdog said in a statement the pardon is a mere “first step,” adding that Egypt should begin tackling “its shameful record of press freedom by releasing all journalists imprisoned for their work in the country.”
On Wednesday El-Sisi pardoned around 100 people, many of whom had been imprisoned for violating a controversial law regulating protests.
The pardon came one day ahead of the Islamic festival of Eid Al-Adha, and also ahead of the president’s visit to New York where he is scheduled to attend the 70th United Nations’ General Assembly.
Journalist Fahmy was sentenced to three years in prison in a retrial last month. He was jailed on charges including joining an outlawed group -- the Muslim Brotherhood -- obstructing governmental institutions and law, attacking the personal liberty of citizens, and harming national unity and social peace.
Fahmy, whose initial arrest was in December 2013, had dual Egyptian-Canadian nationality but gave up his Egyptian nationality in an effort to qualify for deportation per Egyptian law.
Egyptian Baher Mohamed, a producer, had been sentenced to three years on charges of aiding the Brotherhood, and was handed an extra three-year term on weapons charges, for possessing a bullet casing.
The arrest and subsequent trial of the two men and a third colleague, Peter Greste, who was deported to his native Australia after conviction, prompted widespread international criticism.
Within hours of the announcement, Fahmy and Baher had left prison.
The CPJ statement alleges that Egypt is holding at least 18 other journalists in jail "because of their work.”
The NGO named another journalist, Mahmoud Abou Zeid, popularly known as Shawkan, who has been in prison on criminal charges since August 2013. He is yet to be convicted of any charges.
Last December, the CPJ ranked Egypt as among the worst ten jailers of journalists in 2014.
The Egyptian government has repeatedly denied it imprisons journalists or reporters for their work, arguing that all those jailed, including the Al Jazeera journalists, were charged with or convicted of crimes.