A court in August sentenced Mohamed Fahmy to 3 years in jail for operating without a press license and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt
Abdel Fattah Al Sisi pardoned 100 prisoners including three Al Jazeera
television journalists, on Wednesday, a day before he plans to head to the
annual United Nations summit of world leaders.
The Al Jazeera journalists, Canadian Mohamed
Fahmy, Egyptian Baher Mohamed and Australian Peter Greste, were sentenced to
three years in prison in a retrial last month for operating without a press
license and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt. Greste had already been
deported in February.
A spokesperson for the Canadian government
said that Canada was pleased with the pardon and it would help arrange Fahmy's
departure from Egypt.
"Our families have suffered so much
since the beginning of this trial and we're very happy that President Sisi took
this action and released us," Mohamed Fahmy said.
"I will continue fighting for press
freedom... I know there are other defendants who are still in prison related to
this case," Fahmy said.
The pardons were reported by security sources
and Egypt's state news agency, which said they included prisoners who violated
a 2013 law banning protests without a permit, as well as some who were sick.
"This comes in the framework of
President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi's initiative to release a number of youth, which
he launched ... in December," it said, quoting presidential sources.
Human rights groups have accused Egyptian
authorities of widespread violations since the army toppled the country's first
democratically elected president, Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, after mass
protests against his rule two years ago.
"While these pardons come as a great
relief, it is ludicrous that some of these people were even behind bars in the
first place," Amnesty International said in a statement.
"Those pardoned today include only a
fraction of the hundreds of people across the country who have been arbitrarily
arrested, and unlawfully detained," Amnesty said.
Egyptian security forces arrested dozens of
activists last year for violating the 2013 protest ban.
Also among the released were 16 women,
including Yara Sallam, the news agency said. Sallam was arrested last year
along with other activists accused of violating the protest law.
"These pardons will be little more than
an empty gesture if they are not followed up by further releases of those
arbitrarily detained, respect for the right to freedom of expression and
assembly, and accountability for perpetrators of gross human rights
violations," Amnesty said.
The pardons were announced on the same day
that France said it had agreed to sell Egypt two French Mistral helicopter
carriers, whose planned sale to Russia had been cancelled.