Egypt releases 41 political prisoners ahead of Eid, says negotiator

More detainees expected to be released ahead of next week’s holiday, but thousands more likely to remain locked up on charges like spreading ‘false news’

Egyptian journalist Mohamed Salah talks on the phone in Cairo following his release from the police station in al-Abassya district, on April 24, 2022. (Mohamed EL-RAAI / AFP)
Egyptian journalist Mohamed Salah talks on the phone in Cairo following his release from the police station in al-Abassya district, on April 24, 2022. (Mohamed EL-RAAI / AFP)

Egypt on Sunday released 41 political prisoners from pre-trial detention, according to a politician-turned-negotiator, in a country where many more remain behind bars.

“Forty-one of those held on remand detention on political charges and [charges related to] freedom of thought and expression” have been released, Mohamed al-Sadat said.

Long a fixture of Egypt’s political scene, Sadat is a nephew of former president Anwar al-Sadat and has recently emerged as an unofficial negotiator for political prisoners.

Rights groups estimate that tens of thousands of such prisoners are being held in Egypt.

Among those freed Sunday, prominent lawyer Khaled Ali told AFP, were journalist Mohamed Salah, researcher Abdo Fayed and activists Walid Shawky, Haitham al-Banna and Hassan al-Barbary.

Activist Radwa Mohamed, who was arrested in 2019 for criticizing the regime amid rare protests calling for Sisi’s removal from office, was another of those released, according to her lawyer Nabeeh al-Ganadi.

Illustrative: In this July 28, 2018 file photo, Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zied, known by his nickname Shawkan, gestures in a soundproof glass cage inside a makeshift courtroom in Tora prison in Cairo. (AP/Amr Nabil)

All six were charged with “belonging to a terrorist organization and spreading false news” – an accusation frequently leveled against dissidents in Egypt.

Shawky had begun a hunger strike in February. Both he and Salah had previously been ordered released before new charges were leveled against them — a common tactic used to circumvent Egypt’s two-year maximum pre-trial detention period, according to rights groups.

More detainees will be released, Sadat hinted, as “legal and humanitarian reviews” will very likely leave some eligible for “presidential pardons” that are conventionally handed down around Eid, set for the first week of May.

In an interview with AFP, Egyptian-Palestinian activist Ramy Shaath, who was released in January, detailed brutal conditions and treatment in prison, describing inmates as “rotting in hell.”

This week, four social media comedians were arrested on charges of terrorism and spreading false news for a song posted online that satirized the authorities’ failure to rein in rampant inflation.

In November, Human Rights Watch accused the international community of “rewarding repressive rule” by selecting the North African country to host the next climate summit — the COP27, scheduled for November.

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