Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were among the 100 political prisoners and youth activists granted pardon on Wednesday by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The group was among those targeted by the Egyptian government, which came to power in 2013 and soon thereafter enacted a sweeping anti-protest law. Recently passed "anti-terror" legislation allowed al-Sisi to further crackdown on journalists, protesters, and other critics of the repressive regime.
"The pardon, which also includes sick and elderly prisoners, is coinciding with the Muslim feast Eid Al-Adha. It also comes ahead of El-Sisi’s visit to New York on Thursday, where he is scheduled to attend the United Nations’ 70th General Assembly," Ahram Online reports.
In a statement on its Facebook page, Amnesty International welcomed the news, adding that they are "hoping that the decision stems from the authorities’ conviction of the innocence of those imprisoned and is not related to the Egyptian president’s upcoming visit to [the United States]."
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Fahmy, Mohamed, and colleague Peter Greste, were imprisoned in Cairo in December 2013 under accusations of aiding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, among other charges stemming from their coverage of the Arab Spring uprising in 2011.
Greste, an Australian, was freed in February. The remaining two, Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian, and Mohamed, an Egyptian national, were sentenced last month to three years in prison after being convicted of "spreading false news"—a ruling which sparked international condemnation.
Also pardoned Wednesday were Egyptian activists Sanaa Seif and Yara Sallam, who were "among 21 activists sentenced to prison in October 2014 for violating the protest law. It is still unclear whether the rest of the 21 activists were pardoned," Ahram Online reports. Omar Hazek, "who was sentenced to two years in prison in January 2014 for organizing an unauthorized protest in December 2013," was also set free.