Egypt releases former politician in latest prisoner pardon

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities announced Monday the release of a former parliamentarian and lawyer from prison, the latest in a series of high-profile detainees to walk free amid intensified international attention over its human rights record.

Tarik el-Awady, a member of Egypt’s presidential pardon committee, first announced the release of lawyer Ziyad el-Elaimy early Thursday. Videos of the freed lawyer hugging family and friends were later shared by el-Awady and other activists on social media.

Egypt has pardoned dozens of prisoners in recent months with its human rights record coming under growing international scrutiny ahead of the country’s hosting of the U.N. climate change summit, set to begin Nov. 6. For almost a decade, the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has relentlessly quashed political dissent and clamped down on independent organizations through mass arrests, prison sentences, and other restrictions.

El-Elaimy, a founding member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and eminent activist during the country’s 2011 uprising, was arrested along with seven others in 2019. He was later charged with conspiring to commit crimes with an outlawed group, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which el-Sissi’s government has outlawed as a terrorist organization.

The arrest of the eight men came shortly after they met with a number of political parties and opposition lawmakers in a bid to hash out a plan to run in the 2020 parliamentary elections. The group has since been dubbed the “The Alliance of Hope” by its supporters, who accuse the authorities of attempting to thwart a political threat. Hossam Monis, a leading member of the group, was released in April.

Egypt has sought to rectify its international image over the past year. El-Sissi’s government has also established a new “strategy” to upgrade human rights conditions and announced a national dialogue that will include voices of the opposition set to begin later this year. But there remains skepticism about whether these new initiatives will translate into reality. Amnesty International recently described the strategy as a “shiny cover-up”’ used to broker favor with foreign governments and financial institutions.

Rights groups estimate thousands of political prisoners remain in custody in Egypt, many without trial. The country is among the world’s worst jailers of journalists, along with Turkey and China, according to 2021 data produced by the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Many of the major activists involved in Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising remain behind bars, most of whom were charged under a 2013 draconian law that effectively bans all street protests.

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