Egypt releases 7 people including journalist and researcher after being pardoned


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CAIRO — Egypt freed seven people on Saturday, including a journalist and a researcher serving prison sentences on terrorism-related charges, the latest steps taken by the government to reach out to the opposition amid a terrible economic crisis.

The administration of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi is grappling with the crisis and the economic spiral caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine. Egypt, the most populous nation in the Arab world, imports most of its wheat from the two Slavic countries.

The Saturday release of journalist Hisham Fouad and anthropology researcher Ahmed Samir came a day after el-Sissi pardoned them and five others, according to state media.

The pair were released from the Tora prison complex in Cairo and footage shared online showed them hugging families and friends outside the prison.

Fouad was arrested along with several other secular activists in June 2019, shortly after the group met with opposition political parties and lawmakers trying to work out how to stand in the 2020 legislative elections. Among those detained was Hossam Monis and Zyad el-Elaimy, prominent activists in the country’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

They were convicted last year of conspiring to commit crimes with an illegal group, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has banned as a terrorist organization. Fouda and Monis were sentenced to four years in prison each while el-Elaimy was sentenced to five years in prison. Monis was released on a presidential pardon in April.

El-Elaimy’s mother, Ekram Yousef, joined Fouad’s family awaiting his release outside prison. Yousef, who carried a bouquet of flowers for Fouad, later posted on Facebook that he told her he felt guilty for being free while his son was still in prison.

Samir, who is doing his masters in anthropology at the Central European University in Vienna, was arrested in February 2021 for spreading fake news. His four-year sentence was reduced to three years in a retrial earlier this year.

Left-wing activist Abdel-Raouf Khatab and actor Tarek el-Nahri were also released on Saturday.

Lawmaker Mohamed Abdel-Aziz and human rights lawyer Tarek el-Awady, both members of the Presidential Pardons Committee, also confirmed the latest pardons.

Among the awareness-raising measures taken by el-Sisi were the recent release of other prominent activists and a government-initiated national dialogue with opposition parties and government critics, which began earlier this month.

Thousands of political prisoners are still being held in Egypt, however, according to rights groups, as the government carries out a large-scale crackdown on dissent.

Egypt is eager to improve its image abroad as it prepares to host the next UN climate change summit in November.

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