In this Thursday, June 4, 2015 file photo, Canadian Al-Jazeera English journalist Mohamed Fahmy, left, and his Egyptian colleague Baher Mohammed listen in a courtroom in Tora prison in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)
Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi announced on Wednesday the pardoning of 100 prisoners, including Al Jazeera's television journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed and some prominent youth activists who were charged with violating the protest law.
The pardon, which also includes sick and elderly prisoners, is coinciding with the Muslim feast Eid Al-Adha. It also comes ahead of El-Sisi’s visit to New York on Thursday, where he is scheduled to attend the United Nations’ 70th General Assembly.
"This newest batch of youth pardoning comes as part of an initiative, launched by the president in December 2013, to release groups of youths," Egypt's presidency spokesman Alaa Youssef said.
Amnesty International Egypt welcomed the decision via their Facebook page, adding that they are “hoping that the decision stems from the authorities’ conviction of the innocence of those imprisoned and is not related to the Egyptian president’s upcoming visit to [the United States].”
The controversial protest law, passed in November 2013, states that, among other things, protesters have to give the authorities a three-day notice before protesting. Violators face hefty fines and prison sentences.
Egyptian presidents have been known to pardon prisoners ahead of feasts and national celebrations.
Mohamed Fahmy was sentenced to three years in prison 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 a dual Egyptian-Canadian nationality but gave up his Egyptian nationality in an effort to get deported.
Al-Jazeera's Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, who was charged in the same case, was also pardoned. He was sentenced to three years on charges of aiding the Brotherhood and handed an extra six-month term for his alleged possession of a spent bullet.
Within hours of the announcement, Fahmy and Baher had left prison.
Sanaa Seif and Yara Sallam were also pardoned. The two were among 21 activists sentenced to prison in October 2014 for violating the protest law. It is still unclear whether the rest of the 21 activists were pardoned.
The pardoned include Alexandrian activist Omar Hazek, who was sentenced to two years in prison in January 2014 for organising an unauthorised protest in December 2013.
There is no news concerning others sentenced in the same case as Hazek. They include the activist Mahinour El-Masry, winner of the 2014 Ludovic Trarieux Award for her contributions to human rights protection.