Egypt releases over 4,000 prisoners to mark Sinai Liberation Day, without mention of coronavirus crisis

Egypt releases over 4,000 prisoners to mark Sinai Liberation Day, without mention of coronavirus crisis
Egypt released far more detainees than usual on the national holiday, signalling that authorities have bowed to pressure to reduce prison overcrowding in response to the Covid-19 crisis.
2 min read
26 April, 2020
Egyptian police officers celebrate Sinai Liberation Day in Cairo [Getty]
Egypt's Interior Ministry said on Saturday that 4,011 prisoners had been released as part of a presidential amnesty to mark Sinai Liberation Day.

Official media reported that 3,778 prisoners had been pardoned and released while 233 had been conditionally released.

The President customarily grants pardons for prisoners on Sinai Liberation Day, however this year's amnesty included far more detainees than usual.

Although the authorities made no mention of the coronavirus crisis, the scale of release indicates that they are responding to pressure to reduce overcrowding in the country's detention facilities, which coud lead to a catastrophic outbreak of the virus.

In-depth: Middle East regimes are freeing inmates as coronavirus spreads. But political prisoners remain behind bars

Last year, 67 inmates were pardoned on the Sinai anniversary, while in 2018, 700 detainees were released.

The Interior Ministry announced the criteria for this year's release earlier this month, which included those who had served more than half their sentence, or 15 years of a life sentence.

However, individuals convicted of national security, terror or protest law violations - encompassing most of Egypt’s estimated 60,000 political prisoners - would not be eligible for release.

Egypt's authorities freed 15 prominent political opponents from prison in March, without specifying coronavirus as a reason.

Comment: Is the coronavirus pandemic encouraging authoritarianism?

Last week, prominent writer and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah said he had launched a hunger strike against the conditions of his detention in Cairo’s notorious Tora prison.

Abdel Fattah is one of nearly 3,000 people arrested in a police crackdown following rare anti-government demonstrations in 2019. The 37-year-old is one of an estimated 25,000-30,000 prisoners held in pre-trial detention, having not been convicted of any crime.

A 2016 report on prison conditions in Egypt said detainees were denied access to the most basic hygiene facilities and likened the conditions to medieval times "when maltreatment, torture, deprivation of food and healthcare were typical characteristics of life in prison".

Reports of the cramped and unsanitary conditions have sparked fears that the coronavirus - known to spread rapidly in confined spaces - will unleash a health disaster once it enters Egypt’s detention facilities.

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to stay connected