Rights defenders in the dark over president's annual pardon

Osman El-Sharnoubi, Thursday 22 Jan 2015

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi says some protesters will be included in the 25 January presidential pardon, but human rights defenders aren't sure who or how many will be released

Political activists Ahmed Maher , Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel
Political activists Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma (L) and Mohamed Adel (R) of the 6 April movement look on from behind bars in Abdeen court in Cairo, December 22, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

This week Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said some Egyptians imprisoned on protest charges are being considered for an annual pardon given on 25 January, the fourth anniversary of Egypt's 2011 revolution.

The news could have sent hundreds celebrating, as Egyptian prisons fill with demonstrators serving sentences for breaking a strict 2013 demonstrations law, but a few days before and rights defenders are still guessing exactly who, or how many – if any – will come out.

"We presented on Wednesday a list of 600 names we want released, and we're praying," member of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, George Ishaq, also a long time political activist, told Ahram Online.

Ishaq said the list includes different types of prisoners but mainly those who did not engage in acts of violence – a condition of the pardon – whether protesters or arrested randomly in the area around a protest, and especially students who are imprisoned pending trials.

The presidential pardon decision issued this week, however, specifies that only prisoners who have been handed a final verdict and served half the time are eligible for the pardon, but Ishaq seems unfazed.

"We asked for the release of all students and those awaiting trial, many of whom have been waiting for months."

The interior ministry's prison authority said on Thursday 584 prisoners will be released on the occasion of the 25 January anniversary, which is also Police Day.

Whether these will include those serving time for protesting is not yet clear.

Zizo Abdo, spokesperson for April 6 Youth Movement, whose leaders Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel were both sentenced to three years in prison in 2013 for illegally protesting, says the pardon may include them, as they fulfil its conditions of spending over half the prison time.

Amr Emam, a human rights lawyer who represents some of the Egyptians accused of protesting, was also oblivious.

"There's no clear legal process followed in such cases, when the state wants anyone released, it releases them one way or another, we're yet to see who'll get out," he told Ahram Online.

Unlike Emam, spokesperson for the liberal Constitution Party Khaled Dawood seems to believe that a process is followed.

Dawood thinks it improbable that protesters in the famous Shura Council case, wherein prominent activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah is being tried, will be pardoned, as they're still facing a retrial after being sentenced to 3 to 15 years in jail.

He however believes the judiciary can release many whose trials are ongoing on legal grounds until a verdict is announced.

"We have presented several requests for their release," he said.

The Constitution Party has presented Ishaq with a list of nine of their members he says are eligible for release, but has no information whether they'll be pardoned.

The protest law has been vehemently criticised by political groups and commentators, who say it's being used to clamp down on political activity.

Unofficial estimates put the number of protesters arrested since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and subsequent arrest law above 40,000.

A government commissioned fact-finding report about violence in the year after Morsi's ouster put the figure at 13,000 charged with violence and protesting, over 3,700 of which were acquitted.


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