Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pardoned 100 prisoners including three Al Jazeera television journalists on Wednesday, a day before he plans to head to the annual United Nations summit of world leaders.
Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Egyptian Baher Mohamed and Australian Peter Greste were sentenced to three years in prison in a retrial last month for operating without a press license and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt. Greste had already been deported in February.
A spokesperson for the Canadian government said that Canada was pleased with the pardon and it would help arrange Fahmy’s departure from Egypt.
The pardons were reported by security sources and Egypt’s state news agency, which said they included prisoners who violated a 2013 law banning protests without a permit, as well as some who were sick.
“This comes in the framework of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s initiative to release a number of youth which he launched… in December,” it said, quoting presidential sources.
Human rights groups have accused Egyptian authorities of widespread violations since the army toppled the country’s first democratically elected president, Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, after mass protests against his rule two years ago.
Egyptian security forces arrested dozens of activists last year for violating the 2013 protest ban.
Also among the released were 16 women, including Yara Sallam, the news agency said. Sallam was arrested last year along with other activists accused of violating the protest law.
The pardons were announced on the same day that France announced it had agreed to sell Egypt two French Mistral helicopter carriers, whose planned sale to Russia had been cancelled.