As a goodwill gesture during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, Egypt has released hundreds of prisoners so they can spend the holiday with their families.
But only those with criminal backgrounds will spend time with their families. Political prisoners have been denied the same luxury, as the North African country continues to persecute political opponents, including human rights activists, lawyers and journalists.
The Interior Ministry in Cairo on Monday ordered the release of 700 prisoners after a presidential pardon from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who came to office in June 2014, Egypt’s Daily News reported.
El Sisi came to power after what was described by some critics as a military coup ousted former democratically elected President Muhammad Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.
While the political prisoners remained incarcerated, those accused of criminal offences, including illicit gains, narcotics, and the possession of weapons walked free, reported the News.
Egypt’s continued detention of political opponents and activists comes in the wake of the recent release of several human rights activists after much legal wrangling.
Ahmed Abdullah, director of the Egyptian Commission for Human Rights (ECRF), was finally freed last Saturday after spending a month in detention.
Abdullah and a number of his co-defendants had previously been due to walk earlier last week, but the Egyptian prosecution opposed their release, forcing them to remain in detention.
The human rights activist and his co-defendants had been accused of “inciting people to violence, attempting to overthrow the government, establishing an ‘outlawed group’ and preventing the work of state institutions”, charges that are regularly levelled at Cairo’s political opponents.
The accusations were an attempt to prevent protests against a deal Egypt had made with Saudia Arabia over the Red Sea islands, reported the News.
But Abdullah’s position as the legal adviser to the family of murdered Italian student Giulio Regeni made him even more unpalatable in the eyes of the Egyptian authorities.
Regeni’s body, bearing multiple marks of torture, was found along a Cairo highway on February 3 after he disappeared from the Egyptian capital on January 25.
Regeni had been researching Egypt’s labour movements for his doctorate through Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, reported the Israeli daily Haaretz newspaper.
His grisly death was accompanied by denials and contradictory statements from the Egyptian police after media reports accused them of involvement.
Regeni’s murder subsequently developed into a diplomatic issue between Cairo and Rome, as Italian prosecutors upped the ante in pressuring Egyptian officials to come clean and provide more information on the case.
Meanwhile, another activist, Mina Thabet, an ECRF researcher on religious freedoms, was also recently released after being detained for nearly one month on similar charges to Abdullah.
While in late August, another human rights lawyer, Malek Adly, was released after spending 115 days in solitary confinement after he too was charged with “incitement and attempts to topple the regime”.
Human rights organisations have slammed Egypt over the years for the abuse, torture, and sometimes disappearance, of political activists and opponents.
Amnesty International had called for action in solidarity with Abdullah and Thabet, demanding that Egyptian authorities refrain from targeting them because of their human rights work, the News reported.
– African News Agency (ANA)