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Egypt’s Sisi pardons two Jazeera journalists: presidency

September 23, 2015

Egypt’s president on Wednesday pardoned Al-Jazeera’s jailed Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy and his colleague Baher Mohamed, who were sentenced last month to three years in prison, the presidency said.

A spokesman for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Alaa Youssef, told AFP the Al-Jazeera journalists were among a group of inmates pardoned, as state news agency MENA said the pardon covered 100 prisoners, including women activists Sana Seif and Yara Sallam.

Fahmy and Mohamed were sentenced in a retrial to three years in August for allegedly fabricating “false” news in support of the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement, which the army removed from power in 2013 and outlawed.

Australian reporter Peter Greste was also convicted, although he had been deported by presidential decree. It was not immediately clear if he was included in the pardon.

Their detention and trial sparked global criticism towards Sisi, who has said he wished the journalists had been deported from the outset rather than put on trial.

After their sentencing last month, Egypt summoned the British ambassador to Cairo for criticising the ruling.

The United States and the United Nations had led calls for the journalists’ release.

Their arrest in December 2013 came at a time of heightened unrest and a deadly crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood following Islamist president Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow by the military.

At the time, Qatar, which owns Al-Jazeera, had been supportive of the Islamists.

Fahmy, who dropped his Egyptian citizenship to qualify for deportation like Greste, is expected to leave for Canada where has been offered a teaching post once he is freed.

He has asked Sisi to return his Egyptian citizenship, in a local newspaper article published on Wednesday.

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

Sisi has faced also 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 protests, 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 seeking stability and 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.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.