No political prisoners freed as Egypt pardons thousands on Eid

President el-Sisi grants clemency to 3,157 people, including ex-policeman jailed for murder of singer Suzanne Tamim.

    No political prisoners freed as Egypt pardons thousands on Eid
    Rights groups say the Egyptian government has waged an unprecedented crackdown [File: Amr Nabil/AP Photo]

    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has pardoned more than 3,000 prisoners, in a move coinciding with the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

    No activists, journalists or political prisoners, however, were among the 3,157 people granted clemency late on Saturday.

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    According to the official gazette, one of those pardoned was former policeman Mohsen al-Sukkari, sentenced in 2010 to 25 years for the murder of popular Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim.

    A court had found that al-Sukkari acted on instructions from Egyptian real estate tycoon Hisham Talaat Moustafa for a payment of $2m. The 2008 killing of Tamim, Moustafa's lover, sparked public outcry across the Arab region.

    Moustafa, a well-known businessman, was sentenced to 15 years for his part in the crime, but he was granted a presidential pardon in 2017 on health grounds.

    Rights groups say the Egyptian government has waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent since 2013, when el-Sisi led a military coup that deposed his democratically-elected predecessor, President Mohamed Morsi, of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement.

    At least 60,000 people have been jailed on political grounds, according to an estimated by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based NGO.

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    Meanwhile, Amnesty International said earlier this month journalism in Egypt had effectively become a crime over the past four years.

    The London-based group documented 37 cases of journalists arrested in the government's escalating crackdown on press freedom, many charged with "spreading false news" or "misusing social media" under a broad 2015 counterterrorism law that has expanded the definition of terror to include all kinds of dissent.

    Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein remains jailed in Egypt without charges or trial. The Egyptian national, who works for the Al Jazeera Arabic television channel in Qatar, was arrested on arrival in Cairo on December 20, 2016, while on a personal visit to see his family. 

    The United Nations has called on Egypt to end Hussein's "arbitrary detention" and release him "immediately".

    Dalia Fahmy, an associate professor of political science at Long Island University, said el-Sisi "has been using this system of pardoning" on holidays to show he is doing something for society.

    "On the eve of Eid al-Fitr holiday, we see over 3,000 pardons - not a single one of them is a political prisoner or a journalist, rather they are common criminals," she told Al Jazeera.

    "[But] let's look at what is actually happening in Egypt: there are over 60,000 political prisoners; what used to be generation protest is now known as generation jail; he's had had to build 16 more prisons to hold the sheer volume of prisoners," Fahmy added.

    "What we're seeing is that the adjudication of the law is not about the rule of law and protecting of society, it's actually about a part of the gamble of the president takes as how he signifies to the population that he's doing something for them when in reality he isn't."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies