Jailed Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed have been released from prison following a presidential pardon in Egypt.
Dozens of activists have also been released as part of a pardon marking the occasion of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that starts on Thursday, Alaa Youssef, a spokesperson for the Egyptian presidency, has told the al-Ahram newspaper.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on his Facebook page announced on Wednesday that he would release “100 young people trapped in issues related to the breach of the law on demonstrations and some humanitarian and health cases”.
— Egypt MFA Spokesperson (@MfaEgypt) September 23, 2015
It is still not clear if another seven Al Jazeera journalists, including Australian Peter Greste, who were sentenced in absentia, were included in the pardoned group. They had been given prison sentences ranging from three to 10 years.
The Al Jazeera network has welcomed their release but continues to demand all charges and sentences against its journalists are dropped.
“We’re delighted for them both and their families. It is hard to celebrate though as this whole episode should not have happened in the first place. They’ve lost nearly two years of their lives when they were guilty of nothing except journalism,” the network’s acting director general, Mostefa Souag, said.
“We’d like to thank everyone who participated in the #FreeAJStaff campaign, from world leaders to NGOs and those who joined protests and tweeted. Campaigning does work and this day would not have been achieved without you.
“The case for seven journalists convicted in absentia continues. They may not be behind bars, but their families and careers have been affected immeasurably. We urge the Egyptian authorities to quash their cases and let them too get on with their lives.”
On August 29, a court in Cairo sentenced Canadian Fahmy and Egyptian Mohamed, along with Greste, to three years in jail after finding them guilty of “aiding a terrorist organisation”.
Greste was released in February and repatriated to Australia but his court case continued in absentia.
Mohamed was sentenced to an additional six months for possession of a spent bullet casing.
The journalists had been initially found guilty in June 2014 of aiding a “terrorist organisation”, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed in Egypt after the army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
At that hearing, another six Al Jazeera journalists were tried in absentia on the same charges and were sentenced to 10 years’ jail.
Greste said he was “overjoyed” with Wednesday’s news that Mohamed and Fahmy were being released.
I am free! This time for real! Cops dropped me at CAC my old high school in my prison garb. Party Time! #FreeAJStaff
— Mohamed Fahmy (@MFFahmy11) September 23, 2015
“More than anything else, we’ve been concerned for their safety, concerned for their welfare,” he told Al Jazeera.
But he said he was still “slightly cautious” about whether all charges would be dropped against all of the journalists.
“President Sisi has taken a very important step in restoring confidence in the system but it is only a partial step,” Greste said.