President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi issued a decree Sunday ordering the release of some prisoners on the occasions of Eid Al-Fitr and the anniversary of the 23 July 1952 Egyptian revolution.
In the past, executive orders freeing prisoners on national and public holidays have been quite common. Presidents usually take the action as a gesture of goodwill in light of the celebrations.
The decree first arranges for the release of prisoners who have been sentenced to life, who by the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, on 17 July, have completed 15 years of their sentence. The prisoners would then be placed under police probation for five years following their release.
It also orders the release of prisoners who have been sentenced to any period over six months, and have completed half their sentence by 17 July to be released, as well as those who have completed 15 years by 23 July. It also orders the release of prisoners sentenced to over six months, who have completed half their sentence by 23 July, to be released.
Last month, Al-Sisi issued a decree pardoning 165 prisoners of breaching the Protest Law and other misdemeanours. The pardons came on the occasion of the start of the holy month of Ramadan.
According to local human rights organisations, thousands of prisoners are behind bars, many over politically-affiliated cases. The controversial Protest Law has been condemned by a wide range of civic organisations and political parties alike.
The law requires any gathering of more than 10 people to request a permit to demonstrate from the Ministry of Interior, which has the right to refuse it. Violators can face heavy prison sentences.
Human Rights Watch heavily criticised the Egyptian authorities in a report in January for the torture of prisoners, and poor detention conditions. The rights group cited instances of death due to torture as major points of concern.
Last week, an alleged Muslim Brotherhood supporter died in Wadi Al-Natroun Prison due to medical neglect. The man had been in pre-trial detention for over two years.
Deaths in Egyptian prisons due to torture and medical neglect are not rare occurrences. Rights groups constantly try to pressure the government to address the issue and commit to reforms.
In July 2014, Major General Abdelfattah Othman, then the deputy interior minister’s assistant for public relations, dismissed these complaints saying that today prisons in Egypt have become “more like hotels”.