Egypt announces freedom, mass pardon for 30 jailed activists

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt announced late Thursday the release of 30 political activists from jail, the latest in a series of mass releases from detention amid intensifying international scrutiny over the country's human rights record.

There was no immediate word on the identities of the activists and it was not immediately possible to confirm how many of them have already been freed.

The announcement came from Tarik el-Awady, a member of Egypt’s presidential pardon committee. He said the 30 had been in pre-trial detention, facing charges related to their “opinions."

El-Awady later posted photographs, describing them as showing several of the freed detainees hugging family members and friends.

Since 2013, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s government has cracked down on dissidents and critics, jailing thousands, virtually banning protests and monitoring social media. Human Rights Watch estimated in 2019 that as many as 60,000 political prisoners are incarcerated in Egyptian prisons, many without trial.

The issue came to focus during Egypt’s hosting of the two-week world climate summit earlier this month. The conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was in part overshadowed by the hunger strike of imprisoned Egyptian political dissident, Alaa Abdel-Fattah.

As the summit known as COP27 opened, Abdel-Fattah intensified his monthslong, partial hunger strike to completely stop any calorie intake and also stopped drinking water in an effort to draw attention to his case and others like him.

Then, as concerns for his fate mounted, he ended his strike. He remains in prison.

In the months building up the summit, Egypt had sought to rectify its international image, pardoning dozens of prisoners and establishing a new “strategy” to upgrade human rights conditions.

Rights groups have remained skeptical about whether these moves will translate into any lasting change, with Amnesty International describing the strategy as a “shiny cover-up”’ used to broker favor with foreign governments and financial institutions.