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The New Arab

Who did Sisi leave off his pardon list?

Shawkan has been held in pre-trial detention for more than two years [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 September, 2015

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Blog: Egypt's president has come under fire over for only releasing 100 political prisoners, while thousands more languish in jails on trumped up charges.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's decision on Wednesday to release 100 prisoners has left many wondering about the fates of the thousands of other political prisoners in Egypt.

Big names left out of the presidents pardon include photographer Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as Shawkan, who has been held in pre-trial detention for more than two years for taking pictures at the violent dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in by Egyptian security forces.

Political activists such as Alaa Abdel Fattah and Ahmed Maher were also excluded from the list, although Fattah's sister, Sanaa Seif, was released along with human rights defender Yara Sallam.

     Freedom is a right and not a gift to be bestowed by the unworthy to the worthy
- Bassem Youssef

Both siblings were arrested in 2014 while taking part in a protest calling for anti-protest laws to be repealed and the release of all those arrested for violating them.

They were serving three-year sentences after facing a widely condemned trial.

Three high-profile al-Jazeera television journalists were also let go in the decision, but many other reporters - including Abd al-Rahman Shaheen, Ahmad Fuad, Mohammad Ali Hassan and Abd al-Rahman Abd al-Salam - are still behind bars, accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Detained student Israa al-Taweel, who may not be able to walk again unless prison authorities allow her physiotherapy treatment, was also absent from the list, as was her friend Suhaib Saad.

Both went missing in June while eating at a restaurant with friends in the quiet Cairo suburb of Maadi. They were believed to be arrested by plainclothes police and thrown into the back of white minivan before being blindfolded.

Weeks later, they turned up in Cairo prisons facing charges of belonging to the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood and "spreading false news".

Widespread condemnation

Many well-known Egyptian figures and human rights groups slammed Sisi's pardon as merely a "token gesture" and questioned its timing, the day before Sisi headed to the annual UN summit of world leaders.

"Justice is not carried out by partially easing up on oppression but by getting rid of its causes," said best-selling author Alaa al-Aswani.

"Congratulations to the people who have been released, but what about the thousands of other detainees. Why are the absurd anti-protest laws being left untouched?"

Comedian Bassem Youssey joined the conversation on Twitter:


Israa al-Taweel has been denied

adequate medical care, according to reports [Twitter]

"Freedom is a right and not a gift to be bestowed by the unworthy to the worthy.

"Congratulations and forgive us for our complete inability to help. May the same happen to the others who are still inside," he added.

Opposition journalist Nadia Abu al-Magd also said more needed to be done.

"It's not the first time they have played the pardon game just before travelling. They've also postponed handing out sentences before travelling," she said.

Mohamed Soltan, a former political prisoner, tweeted that officials had ambitions on the world stage:

"The general [Sisi] realised he had to make a sacrifice to the international community before Egypt runs for a seat on the UN Security Council," he posted.

"Let's remember the thousands of political prisoners, which include minors, women, journalists, activists and academics still behind bars this Eid," he added.

Human Rights Watch's Emergency Director Peter Bouckaert said: "Egypt pardoning 100 [including] [two] al-Jazeera [journalists] is empty gesture when many [thousands] remain imprisoned after unfair trials. Repression must end."

Amnesty International agreed, saying in a statement: "While these pardons come as a great relief, it is ludicrous that some of these people were even behind bars in the first place.

"Those pardoned today include only a fraction of the hundreds of people across the country who have been arbitrarily arrested, and unlawfully detained."

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