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Africa

After Mubarak sons' release Egypt NGOs call for all political prisoners to be freed

media Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the World Economic Forum in Davos on 22 January, 2015 Reuters/Ruben Sprich

An Egyptian court yesterday demanded the release of the sons of former leader Hosni Mubarak. Gamal and Alaa Mubarak will be released pending a retrial on corruption charges. But Egyptian rights groups are sceptical about the president's promise to release prisoners in ahead of the anniversary of the country's 2011 revolution.

 

Sunday will mark four years since popular protest toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak.

But human rights groups say that current laws shutting down protest as well as poor prison conditions make the freeing of some prisoners a hollow victory.

Dossier: Revolution in Egypt

Egypt's President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi announced earlier this week that he intends to free prisoners who were wrongfully arrested or kept on minor charges.

This, after he stated that "there are no political prisoners in Egypt".

A Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday criticised the Egyptian prison system for its use of torture and a growing number of deaths in custody.

Pictures also emerged this week of two high profile cases, US citizen Mohammed Soltan and prominent activist Alaa Al-Fattah, both considerably weakened after prolonged hunger strikes.

Al-Fattah was arrested for violating an infamous 2013 law cracking down on protests. He was transferred to a military hospital on Monday after what his supporters say is over two months without food.

But Heba Khalil, of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, says that there is more to be worried about than the use of these cases as a warning to others.

"The real crisis that faces Egyptian youth is that there are so many unknown people in prisons, and it's those people who we worry most about," she says. "As you need to find them first to make sure they reach justice as well."

Khalil says that, unlike last year, this year has not seen a spike in arrests ahead of the anniversary of the 25 January revolution. But she points out that this is because there have been more arrests throughout the year.

Khalil questions the nature of Sisi's promise to release a limited number of prisoners:

"I mean, I think if he says he'll release some prisoners, I'm sure some people will be let go from prison. I think the problem that we have with this promise is that we're not looking for a one-time initiative, we're looking for something more structural that means that people are not regularly being arrested for things like being on the street and protesting or holding a banner."

Activists and the families of prisoners alike are now waiting to see what happens ahead of Sunday's anniversary of the 2011 revolution.

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