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Egypt orders release of 46 detainees in latest pardons

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities announced Thursday the release of 46 detainees, including a prominent human rights lawyer, the latest to be freed from jail amid intensifying international attention.

Tarik el-Awady, a member of Egypt’s presidential pardon committee, confirmed the release of the lawyer, Haitham Mohamadein, and the other 45 detainees, all of whom are awaiting trial. Several pictures of the freed lawyer alongside friends and family were later shared by activists on social media. It remained unclear if other detainees had walked free yet.

Egypt has pardoned dozens of detainees in past months as its human rights record comes under international scrutiny ahead of it hosting the U.N. climate change summit in November. The government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi — a U.S. ally with deep economic ties to European countries — has been relentlessly silencing dissenters and clamping down on independent organizations for years with arrests, detentions and prison sentences, and other restrictions.

In April, Egypt released more than three dozen detainees before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, typically a time when prisoners are released on presidential pardons. In June, el-Sissi initiated a national dialogue with opposition parties and government critics.

However, thousands of political prisoners are estimated by rights groups to remain in custody in Egypt, many without trial. Egypt 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. Last week, authorities charged four journalists from one of the country’s few remaining independent news outlets, Mada Masr, with spreading false news and disturbing public peace, the news website said in a statement.

According to the state-owned media outlet Al-Ahram, Mohamadein was arrested in May 2019 and charged with crimes related to ‘spreading false news and joining an illegal group — a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Those are typical charges for detainees and political activists who oppose the government.

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

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