Egypt‘s President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi on Wednesday pardoned more than 330 young people, most of whom had been convicted and jailed for their participation in illegal protests.
Egypt‘s president has the authority to pardon those who have been convicted and cannot appeal their sentences. Authorities in Muslim countries traditionally release prisoners on the eve of the fasting month of Ramadan as a show of mercy. Ramadan begins on Thursday this year.
In televised remarks, al-Sisi said he ordered that all the procedures be completed so the prisoners can “eat sohour at their homes,” referring to the pre-dawn meal before the daily sunup-to-sundown fast.
Officials say a total of 332 prisoners will be released, including pro-democracy activists who were found in violation of a 2013 law that prohibits unauthorised protests.
Secular activists Andrew Nassef of the unofficial leftist Bread and Freedom Party, and Islam Fouad of the opposition Dostour (Constitution) party were among those pardoned, the officials said. Islam Marei, of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, is also on the list, they said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief reporters.
Egypt has waged a massive crackdown on dissent since al-Sisi led the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 amid mass protests against his yearlong rule. Thousands of people have been jailed, including several prominent secular activists who defied the protest ban.
Those measures have virtually eliminated street activism in Egypt, where mass protests in 2011 ended President Hosni Mubarak‘s nearly 30-year rule. The government has also cracked down on online organising by blocking hundreds of websites, including many run by independent journalists and rights groups.
The government has defended such measures, saying it is trying to restore stability, revive the economy and defeat an Islamic State-led insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula.
Also on Wednesday, an Egyptian court added the names of 241 suspected Islamic militants to the country‘s terrorism watch list for five years. The designation bars them from travel and grants authorities the right to freeze their assets.
The Cairo Criminal Court said they are part of a group of 555 terror suspects who face military trial on charges of joining a local affiliate of the Islamic State group. The charges include killing and plotting to kill security personnel, attacking military checkpoints in northern Sinai and sabotaging a gas pipeline between Egypt and Jordan.
Only 216 of the 555 suspects are in custody, according to authorities.
An ISIS affiliate based in northern Sinai has carried out attacks across Egypt in recent years, mainly targeting security forces and the country‘s Christian minority.
* Sign up to News24‘s top Africa news in your inbox:
<strong and .