The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies appeals to the president to issue a decree pardoning people imprisoned in connection with the protest law, journalists, and the Egyptians, Americans, Germans, and others convicted in the case involving international non-governmental organizations. These individuals should receive a pardon similar to that issued by the president on September 23, 2015, which led to the release of 100 individuals imprisoned for exercising their constitutional right to peacefully demonstrate, and similar also to that issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in 2011, when the current president was a member of that council and the director of the Military Intelligence. The 2011 pardon led to the release of many jihadis, some of whom had been tried and convicted and some of whom reportedly joined jihadi groups in Sinai and elsewhere. At the time, Egyptian rights organizations demanded new, fair trials for thousands of people held in connection with terrorism cases, which would have allowed the release of detainees not implicated in acts of violence while ensuring punishment for persons with proven involvement in violence.
While the CIHRS welcomes the most recent presidential pardon, it is not enough. Although it helped relieve the injustice experienced by 100 people, it did not address the dysfunction in the Egyptian justice system that has led to the imprisonment of thousands of people, many of whom have been deprived of their liberty by protracted periods in pretrial detention without being referred to trial. In a television interview in February, the president said that he could not deny that there were innocent youth in prisons and that he would work to release them. The Interior Ministry, moreover, has justified the increasing number of deaths in prison to the massive overcrowding that exceeds the capacities of the prison system.
The CIHRS notes that pardons and amnesties for political prisoners are a defining feature of the transition from one political era to another. Many such prisoners were released following the revolution of July 23, 1952, and Anwar al-Sadat similarly pardoned many prisoners of conscience when he assumed the presidency in 1970, as did former President Hosni Mubarak in 1981 upon assuming the office. The same course was followed by SCAF when it began governing the country in 2011, but it released a number of jihadis charged in criminal cases; President Mohamed Morsi did the same thing upon coming to power in 2012. But pardons for political prisoners and prisoners of conscience were not issued when Adli Mansour became the interim president. President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi issued pardons on a very limited scale when he assumed the office, although the prisons are packed with tens of thousands of people.
In this context, the CIHRS presents a legal study in the form of an FAQ on pardons and amnesties and their consequences and conditions, citing provisions from the constitution, law, and Court of Cassations rulings.
As the study demonstrates, the frequent claim that the president cannot use his constitutional powers of pardon while criminal proceedings are still underway is incorrect. In fact, the president used these powers last month in connection with the Ittihadiya protestors, who had not exhausted all avenues of appeal. There is no legal or constitutional provision prohibiting the exercise of this presidential authority and pardoning people convicted in other cases, first and foremost the case of the rights and democracy organizations from 2012.
While a pardon may not address the severe dysfunction in the justice establishment, itis nevertheless a measure that can alleviate injustice for a great many prisoners of conscience, political activists, and human rights activists who peacefully exercised their constitutional rights. Despite this peacefulness, some were convicted under the provisions of the flawed protest law (Law 107/201) and a law dating back 101 years, Law 10/1914 on assembly, or under overbroad provisions in the Penal Code. Their trials and investigations did not meet the minimum standards for a fair trial and were marred by numerous procedural irregularities, ultimately leading to their imprisonment for various terms. This is in addition to citizens who happened to be passing by a demonstration and were arbitrarily arrested and given similarly arbitrary sentences.
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