Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has pardoned 82 detainees, including a TV host. The majority of those released from prison reportedly were university students.
The pardons came on Thursday after Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had set up a committee last month to assess details of cases of young offenders who not been involved in violent crime but who were arrested as part of an ongoing government crackdown on dissidents.
Members of the committee said, however, that active members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood would not be pardoned. The Egyptian military under Sissi as the then-chief general of the armed forces had overthrown former President Mohammed Morsi in 2013, who was leader of the Brotherhood. The military coup and Sissi's subsequent election as president the following year resulted in a purge of his supporters that saw hundreds of protesters killed and thousands jailed.
The crackdown later extended to liberal and left-wing activists who turned against Sissi's government after Morsi's ouster following mounting reports human rights abuses. The Egyptian government has not publicized the number of detainees held since the onset of the crackdown, but estimates vary between 20,000 and 40,000.
Pardons part of a wider effort
A television presenter known for advocating in favor of Islamic reform was also among those pardoned. Sissi had sentenced Islam Behery to one year in prison for "defaming religious symbols." His incarceration has been used by government critics as evidence of diminishing freedom of expression in the country.
Nashwa el-Hofy, a member of a panel that recommended the choice of prisoners for this round of pardons, said, however, that the aim was "university youths." According to the Egypt's MENA news agency, the pardons were the first phase of a wider effort, implying there could be further pardons in the future. Sissi had already pardoned 100 people in September 2015, including two journalists and several prominent dissidents, in an effort to change perceptions on his leadership. While Sissi does not have authority to interfere in Egypt's judiciary he can issue pardons.
He also pledged that the government would consider revising a law banning demonstrations not sanctioned by the police. Critics have condemned it as unconstitutional. Sissi had earlier ruled out changing his mind about the law.
ss/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)