Morsi's pardon must include all 'political' prisoners: Rights activists

Osman El Sharnoubi, Wednesday 10 Oct 2012

Some Egyptian human rights advocates' fear that certain conditions in presidential decree could mean that some citizens unjustly detained since last year's 18-day uprising may not be released

Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi speaks to the nation at Cairo stadium October 6, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

President Mohamed Morsi's move to pardon some of Egypt's political prisoners on Monday, initially seen by some rights activists as a positive step in line with key revolutionary demands, became subject to scrutiny, as some commentators struggled to interpret how it will be applied.  

The presidential decree states in its first article, the pardon is "for all felony convictions and misdemeanor convictions or attempted-crimes committed to support the revolution and the fulfillment of its goals."

"According to our understanding of the decree, only five cases we know about, where civilians faced military trials, will benefit from it," said political activist Mona Seif, member of the No Military Trials for Civilians campaign.

Seif is concerned that the pardon is limited to those arrested for supporting the revolution and consequently will not include those arbitrarily arrested and tried during the first months of the uprising on charges of breaking curfew, weapon or drug possession. 

The executive body has issued pardons in the recent past. For example in July, 572 citizens were released following the recommendations of the Civil Rights Protection committee, which the president appointed to look into the detainees' cases. 

However, hundreds remain in Egypt's prisons.

Seif said that between 1000 to 2000 Egyptians are currently serving sentences from military tribunals; the vast majority of which may not fall within the remit of the pardon.

Mohamed Zarei, a member of Morsi's detainees committee and chairman of the Arab Organisation for Penal Reform disagreed. He claims that even those who have been charged with weapon and drug possession during the given period would be released.

A major problem, Zarei highlighted, is that during the post-uprising period citizens were summarily arrested and tried for charges they did not commit. 

Zarei stresses that all those detained under such circumstances, except army officers and those charged or indicted for murder, have already been released or shortly will be on account of Morsi's decree.

Nevertheless, both Seif and Zarei agree that those undergoing civilian trials would greatly benefit.

The decree will mainly affect those arrested and charged in major events such as the November clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street and the fighting in December near the People's Assembly (Egypt's lower branch of parliament).

"These [cases] were the ones left, all the others have been taken care of by the committee and released," Zarei contended.

Seif added that she believes the decree only targets these groups, as they are the only cases currently in the media spotlight.

Others, such as 17-year-old Mohamed Ihab who had been sentenced to 15 years in a maximum security prison for breaking curfew and attacking an officer will remain in custody, said Seif, stressing that Ihab is a minor.

"At the very least he should be serving time in a juvenile institution," she added.

This point was tackled by prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer, Ahmed Seif El-Islam.

Seif El-Islam commented on the decree, telling Associated Press Newswire that he advised Morsi to be more specific regarding exactly who would benefit from the pardon.

The same point was made by Human Rights Watch researcher, Priyanka Motaparthy.

"It's not clear to me who will be covered by the decree, which uses very vague language," Motaparthy told Ahram Online.

Echoing Seif, Motaparthy highlighted the fact that many of the incarcerated were not detained during political rallies or activities.

"Even adults arrested from protests weren't charged with 'being revolutionaries,' but with carrying light weapons, destroying public property, attacking public officers, disrupting traffic, illegal public gathering, [and] sometimes libel and slander," she said.

Motaparthy added that minors faced the same charges and were consequently imprisoned.

"The pardon is just a beginning. Now, President Morsi needs to order investigation and prosecution of the protesters or arbitrary detainees, including children, who were abused and in some cases tortured since 25 January," urged Motaparthy.

The decree stipulates that the prosecutor general and military attorney general are to publish a list of all the names of those pardoned in the official government gazette, al-Wakaei al-Masryia, a month from the date the decree was issued.

"Those who are missing from the list have the right to file petitions – free of fees – to the prosecutor general or to the military attorney general within a month after the names are published,"stated Morsi's pardon decree.

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