Egypt frees 3 as president appears to reach out to critics

FILE - Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi delivers a speech during the One Ocean Summit, in Brest, Brittany, Feb. 11, 2022. The head of a journalists union said May 1, 2022, that Egyptian authorities have freed three journalists the latest in a string of releases as el-Sissi appears to be reaching out to critics of his administration. Long pre-trial dentitions have been a major concern for rights groups in recent years. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP, File) (Ludovic Marin)

CAIRO – Egyptian authorities freed three journalists early Sunday, the head of a journalists’ union said, the latest in a string of releases as President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi appears to be reaching out to critics of his administration.

Ammer Abdel-Moneim, Hany Greisha and Essam Abdeen walked free from jail after they spent around a year and a half in detention in separate cases.

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Diaa Rashwan, head of the Journalists’ Union, posted images showing the three journalists wearing white jail uniforms and embracing their families in the street.

They were released pending investigations into initial charges of misuse of social media and joining a terrorist group, in an apparent reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organization since 2013. The three have yet to face trial.

Their release came a few days after authorities freed 41 detainees — including several prominent writers and activists — who had been held for months also without trial. Long pre-trial detentions have been a major concern for rights groups in recent years.

El-Sissi also reactivated a presidential pardon committee and appointed new members. The committee, in charge of reviewing cases of prisoners held for political crimes, was created in 2016 and had been mostly ineffective in recent years.

On Thursday, authorities released prominent political activist Hossam Monis following a pardon by el-Sissi. Monis was serving a four-year sentence on terror charges that rights advocates deemed baseless.

Some independent observers believe the government is trying to reach out to critics in the midst of a grinding economic crisis sparked by the Russian war on Ukraine. Thousands of political prisoners, however, are estimated to remain in Egyptian jails.

The Egyptian government has in recent years waged a wide-scale crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people, mainly Islamists, but also secular activists involved in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

It has also imprisoned dozens of reporters and occasionally expelled some foreign journalists. It remains among the world’s worst jailers of journalists, along with Turkey and China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a U.S.-based watchdog.

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