Jailed al-Jazeera journalists freed after Egyptian presidential pardon

Jailed al-Jazeera journalists freed after Egyptian presidential pardon
3 min read
23 September, 2015
Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were released after being included in a group of 100 pardoned prisoners pardoned by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Mohamed Fahmy was imprisoned along with two other al-Jazeera journalists.
Two al-Jazeera journalists pardoned by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi were released on Wednesday and said they were looking forward to being reunited with their families. 
Earlier in the day the jailed Canadian journalist with al-Jazeera television, Mohamed Fahmy, and his colleague, the Egyptian Baher Mohamed, were pardoned.

"I'm feeling ecstatic knowing that I don't have to worry about lawyers, police officers following me all over the place and knowing that I'm going to share my apartment tonight with my beloved wife," Fahmy told AFP after his release. 

State news agency MENA said the journalists were among a group of 100 pardoned prisoners, including women activists Sana Seif and Yara Sallam.

Fahmy and Mohamed were dropped off by authorities in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Maadi, not far from their former prison. 

"We're very happy, very happy. But we're a bit surprised about how it was done," Mohamed said, as the two men stood in their blue prison uniforms waiting for family members. 

Fahmy and Mohamed were arrested along with fellow al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, an Australian, in 2013 on charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and broadcasting false news. The journalists and al-Jazeera have fiercely rejected the accusations. 

It is currently unclear if Greste has also been pardoned. 

Earlier today Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turner said his government would continue to press the government of Egypt to pardon Australian journalist Peter Greste, and his al-Jazeera colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed.

"I want Peter … to know that the Australian government continues to support you and your colleagues and we will continue to press the government of Egypt to pardon you and the other journalists with whom you worked," Turnbull said reported the UK's Guardian newspaper.

International condemnation of the charges, which included a prominent campaign to free the journalists, appeared to be unsuccessful when a Cairo court sentenced the journalists to three years in prison in an August retrial.

Greste had already been deported in February. 

Fahmy, who had dropped his Egyptian citizenship to qualify for deportation, is expected to leave for Canada once he is freed. 

Unlike Mohamed and Greste, Fahmy has been particularly vocal in attacking al-Jazeera, in part blaming the Qatar-based television network for his arrest, and is suing them.

Activists pardoned

The pardons came on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, when prisoner releases often take place in Muslim countries.

They appeared aimed at activists for the most part, with the presidency saying the cases involved violations of a protest law and "assaulting police officers," in addition to some pardons on health grounds.

Sisi has faced mounting calls to release activists such as Seif and Sallam, a human rights worker detained after a small protest outside the presidential palace in 2014.

The two women were charged with holding an illegal protest, under a law that bans all but police-sanctioned demonstrations, and sentenced to three years in jail.

No official list was immediately issued of those pardoned on Wednesday, leaving it unclear whether other secular activists such as Alaa Abdel Fattah and Ahmed Maher were included.

It was also not known if the pardon covered Mahmoud Abu Zeid, a photographer arrested in August 2013 as hundreds of Islamist protesters were killed in clashes with police clearing two Cairo sit-ins.

Thousands of Islamists, including Morsi, have been arrested since his overthrow, and scores sentenced to death.

But the crackdown on the Islamists has also extended to secular leaning activists who had supported Morsi's overthrow after his divisive year in power.

Sisi, the former army chief who was elected president in 2014, remains popular with many Egyptians an end to unrest in the wake of the country's 2011 revolution that toppled longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak.

He has vowed to steer clear of court cases out of respect for the judiciary's independence.