Egyptian activists 'happy 100 pardoned are free but demand more'

Ahram Online , Thursday 24 Sep 2015

A hundred prisoners were pardoned by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi on Wednesday, but rights activists say there are thousands of others who should be freed

Yara Sallam and Sanaa Seif
Egyptian activists Yara Sallam (L) and Sanaa Seif (R), who spent 16 months behind bars for breaking the protest law, were among 100 pardoned on Wednesday. (Photo: Courtesy of Yara Sallam and Sanaa Seif Facebook accounts)

A number of public figures welcomed President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s decision on Wednesday to pardon 100 prisoners, most of whom were young people convicted for violating the protest law.

The presidential pardons, which also covered some sick and elderly prisoners, came ahead of the Muslim feast Eid Al-Adha, when Egypt's presidents traditionally order such releases.

"This newest batch of youth pardons comes as part of an initiative launched by the president in December 2013 to release groups of youths," El-Sisi's spokesman, Alaa Youssef, said on Wednesday.

In statements to Al-Ahram newspaper, Medhat El-Zahed, the interim president of Socialist Populist Alliance Party, said El-Sisi’s decision is a “positive development,” and added he hoped further pardons of young people would follow.

El-Zahed also expressed his wish that El-Sisi amend the controversial protest law, which landed many of those pardoned on Wednesday behind bars.

The pardoned included Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who were sentenced to three years and four years last month respectively 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.

Rights activists Sanaa Seif and Yara Sallam and 19 other women -  sentenced to prison in October 2014 for violating the protest law - were among the pardoned.

The freed also include Alexandrian activist Omar Hazek, who was sentenced to two years in prison in January 2014 for participating in an unauthorised protest in December 2013.

The Protest law, passed in November 2013, bans all protests without prior permission from the authorities.

Hundreds of violators, mostly Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi but also non-Islamist protesters, have faced hefty fines and prison sentences since the law was passed.

Rajia Omran, a prominent rights lawyer who represented some of the released, wrote on her Facebook account: “Yes, we were happy they were let out, because happiness is a right for the innocent who deserve compensation. But our happiness won’t be completed until all the innocent are out [of prison].”

“We will continue our work and struggle until all those imprisoned because of unjust laws are out and those laws are dropped,” Omran, who is also a member of the Egyptian Council for Human Rights, added.

Rights activist Mona Seif, whose sister Sanaa Seif was one of those pardoned but not her brother Alaa, said on her Facebook account that “[pardoning] 100 or 200 and the prisons are full of thousands of innocents, including children, is unjust.”

Seif added that “there’s an imbalance in this world...when children aren’t the first to be released on a pardon.” She cited as an example the case of 16-year-old Soheib Emad who has been in prison for 19 months pending trial on a number of criminal charges which include possession of Molotov cocktails.

Bassem Youssef, the well-known political satirist and former TV host, wrote in Arabic on Twitter that “liberty is a right and not something to be granted by those who do not have the right to do so.”

Amnesty International welcomed the pardons, writing on the group's official Facebook page that they hope 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].” 

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