Amnesty International: “Exclude security agencies from reviewing releases of jailed critics”

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The fate of thousands of arbitrarily detained men and women should not rest in the hands of Egypt’s security agencies, namely the National Security Agency and General Intelligence, Amnesty International said today following the release of four prisoners held for political reasons, based on recommendations by the recently re-activated Presidential Pardons Committee.

“We welcome the long-overdue release of those detained solely for exercising their human rights — and the promise to free more. Yet thousands of opponents and critics continue to languish in Egyptian jails. In contrast, fresh arrests and prosecutions continue unabated,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Previous promises to release prisoners held for political reasons amounted to little more than disingenuous attempts to deflect international criticism of Egypt’s abysmal human rights record. To prove they are committed now, the Egyptian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release anyone detained solely for exercising their human rights, including politicians, journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders.”

On 5 May, following the re-activation of the Presidential Pardons Committee by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, eight Egyptian human rights NGOs called on the authorities to publicly clarify the criteria and timeline used to review prisoners’ files. The groups expressed concern that prisoners of conscience and others held for political reasons could be excluded on discriminatory grounds, with security agencies controlling the decision-making process for releases.

Indeed, several committee members said that they would not consider releasing detained Muslim Brotherhood members. Several relatives who submitted requests for the committee to review their loved ones’ detention told Amnesty International that two committee members demanded to see evidence that detainees did not belong to the Muslim Brotherhood.