Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has issued a presidential pardon to release two Al-Jazeera English journalists, Canadian national Mohamed Fahey and Egyptian reporter Baher Mohammed, who has been first detained in 2013 on charges of spreading “false news” in a long-running case that sparked global outrage.
Long lobbied for by human rights activists including Amal Clooney, who is Fahmy’s lawyer, these watershed pardons come at the start of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha and on the eve of el-Sissi’s scheduled appearance to deliver a speech before the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
The Egyptian president has also announced on his Facebook page that he will release “100 young people trapped in issues related to the breach of the law on demonstrations and some humanitarian and health cases.” Those convictions stem from a 2013 law against non approved political demonstrations that virtually quashed street activism.
Fahey and Mohammed were originally detained, along with Australian journalist Peter Greste, at the Cairo Marriott hotel on December 29, 2013. The three respected journalists had been linked by Egyptian prosecutors to supposed student terrorist groups connected with the Muslim Brotherhood, though no evidence was ever provided during several trials.
Greste had been released in February on Sissi’s orders after spending more than 400 days behind bars. His two colleagues had also been released in February, but they had remained in Egypt for a retrial and then placed back behind bars in August.
Al Jazeera’s acting director general Dr. Mostefa Souag in a statement welcomed the release of the two reporters but added that it was “hard to celebrate” because “this whole episode should not have happened in the first place.”
“They’ve lost nearly two years of their lives when they were guilty of nothing except journalism,” he noted.
Souag added that Al Jazeera will continue to call on Egyptian authorities to drop convictions against seven of its journalists, including Greste, tried in absentia.
Amal Clooney in a statement said she was “delighted” by the pardon.
“This is a historic day in Egypt where the government has finally corrected a longstanding injustice,” she enthused.
The two reporters were freed from jail shortly after the presidential pardon was announced and released by police in a Cairo suburb, the Associated Press reported.
“We have not digested the fact that we are free, we don’t have to worry about anything else,” Fahmy told the AP.
“Our families have suffered so much since the beginning of this trial, and we’re very happy that el-Sissi took this action and released us.”