Egypt: Prisoner pardons welcome but much more must be done to protect freedom of expression

Yesterday’s announcement of a presidential decree granting pardon to 100 people including Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, and poet Omar Hazek, is a small step towards rectifying violations against freedom of expression in the country.

‘While we welcome these pardons and the relief it will bring to those released and their families, these writers and activists should never have been imprisoned in the first place. All those jailed for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association must have their convictions quashed and be unconditionally released,’ said PEN International’s President, John Ralston Saul

Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, along with a third Al Jazeera colleague, Peter Greste, were arrested in December 2013 in their hotel room in Cairo and charged with operating without a licence and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt. Peter Greste was released and deported back to his native Australia in February.

The journalists were convicted in their first trial and were handed terms of seven to 10 years in prison. In January 2015, Egypt’s highest court ordered a retrial; in August all three men were convicted of fabricating false news and were given three years behind bars.

Internationally acclaimed poet Omar Hazek was arrested in December 2013 and later sentenced to two years in prison for ‘protesting without permission’ in violation of a restrictive law on assembly while demonstrating in support of the family of a man beaten to death in police custody. While in prison he was adopted as an Honorary Member of Austrian PEN and Danish PEN, and was one of the poets English PEN highlighted at this year’s Ledbury Festival as part of our Poetry as Protest campaign. His sister confirmed his release to Austrian PEN.

While the latest pardon frees journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and poet Omar Hazek, many remain behind bars. Blogger and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah who is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for taking part in a peaceful demonstration. PEN calls on the Egyptian authorities to free all those held solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly including during journalistic or human rights work.

 

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

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