The Egyptian authorities have announced the release of 3,157 prisoners under a presidential pardon. According to a decision published in the official newspaper, the pardon comes on the occasion of Eid Al Fitr, which began on Sunday. The pardon included a former security state officer imprisoned for his conviction for the murder of Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim in 2008.
Former security state officer Mohsen al-Sukkari was sentenced in 2010 to 25 years in prison for stabbing to death Suzanne Tamim in Dubai two years earlier. His trial revealed that he had killed her on the orders of Tamim’s lover, who was 30 years old, the Egyptian real estate tycoon Hisham Talaat Mostafa, for $2 million.
Hisham Talaat was sentenced to 15 years in prison before benefiting in 2017 from an amnesty for health reasons. Talaat was close to Gamal Mubarak, son of then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down in 2011.
In 2008, the court of the first instance sentenced the two men to death before the two appeals were accepted later, and the sentence was commuted. The first article of the pardon decision issued by al-Sisi said: “The original sentence or the remainder of it is exempted from the dependency punishment imposed on the number of 3,157 convicted (…), unless any of them is convicted in other cases.”
The number of those released according to the decision is considered the largest in recent years for convicts, although the presidential pardon did not include any detainees held on political charges. Recently, there have been several calls for the authorities to issue a presidential pardon for prisoners (especially political activists), and to release prisoners held under investigation, as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Egyptian law considers the defendant (including those held for investigation) as innocent, until proven guilty. Nevertheless, the Egyptian regime refused to release political detainees, and kept them in prison, although their lives are in danger.
Lawyers consider it strange that the Egyptian regime releases dangerous killers and criminals who have been convicted while insisting on the continued imprisonment of innocent people who were not proven guilty, including well-known politicians. Lawyers affirmed to Egypt Watch that al-Sisi’s decision included several categories, the vast majority of whom are convicted in ordinary criminal cases, as there are about 1,000 defendants convicted in criminal cases such as murder and attempted murder, drug, and human trafficking, the administration of prostitution networks, bank corruption, and fraud.
It also included a number of those convicted in minor misdemeanor cases, like prostitution, theft of electricity, violation of building conditions and economic violations, most of which date back to the years from 2016 to 2019. The list included dozens of convicts tried in military court of misdemeanors and crimes, most of which have no political dimension, as well as those accused under emergency state security. Those imprisoned were excluded due to demonstrations, violence, or terrorism.
Human rights lawyers have said that al-Sisi’s decision aims to reduce the number of prisoners because there are so many political prisoners who have been arrested for demonstrations and on “terrorism” charges. This step aims to vacate a number of prisons that are filled with criminals, so that political detainees can be transferred into them.
A plan to redistribute political detainees comes in light of great criticism of the Egyptian regime due to prison conditions and the overcrowding of political prisoners in light of the coronavirus crisis. A number of human rights organisations have criticised the Egyptian regime’s refusal to release the detainees as a measure to confront coronavirus.
On the contrary, the Egyptian authorities have expanded the arrest of citizens and the opening of new cases that include accusations of spreading false news or the misuse of social networking sites, and the reimprisonment of a number of those entitled to release in new cases.