CAIRO — Human rights organization Amnesty International has advised the international community not to be fooled by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's "veneer of reform and empty promises."
Sisi issued presidential pardons for 100 young people on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, including activists Yara Sallam and Sanaa Seif, and journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who were sentenced to three years last August in the internationally condemned Al Jazeera case.
Some of them were released immediately, and others after a slight delay, such as Salwa Mehrez, whose name was listed wrongly in the presidential decree. But in a statement Monday, the international rights organization specifically highlighted the cases of seven activists who still remain behind bars.
Nahed Abdel Hamid, Momen Abdel Tawab, Menna Mostafa, Abrar al-Anany, Mamdouh Gamal Eddin, Mohamed Hossam Eddin and Asmaa Abdel Aziz Shehata are still in prison due to bureaucratic issues, according to lawyer Ragia Omran.
Amnesty argued that the decree clearly states that all those pardoned should be released immediately unless they have been sentenced in other cases.
Said Boumedouha, Deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International, says that most of those pardoned "should never have been locked up in the first place, because they were peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly."
He adds, "Given the authorities' intolerance of peaceful dissent, the space vacated in prison cells by those freed in the pardon will be filled up again all too soon," as political prisoners are used as "bargaining chips," and only released when politically expedient, or to deflect international criticism of Egypt's human rights record.
There were also others not included in the pardons who should have been, Amnesty asserts, including Alaa Abd Al Fattah, Ahmed Douma, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, as well as Mahienour al-Massry, detained photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (known as Shawkan) and student Mahmoud Hussein.
"Amnesty International is aware of thousands more people across the country who have been languishing in Egyptian prisons under President al-Sisi's rule, including other journalists and activists," the organization's statement reads. It was released just hours before Sisi was scheduled to address the UN General Assembly in New York.
"If the President wants to convince the UN General Assembly in his speech today that Egypt's appalling human rights record is a thing of the past, he will have to implement meaningful reforms," Boumedouha says.
He urges the United States and France to halt the transfer of small arms and ammunition to Egypt, "and other policing equipment used to commit mass violations" against protesters.
"The international community must not let Sisi and the Egyptian government off the hook because of the recent pardons."