CAIRO – Egypt released more than three dozen prisoners on Sunday, a week before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is typically a time of amnesty, a political party and state-run media said.
Political activists and family members confirmed several high-profile detainees were freed.
The Reform and Development Party said those freed had been political prisoners being held in pre-trial detention. The English edition of the state-run newspaper Al-Ahram said 41 prisoners in all were released.
The government’s human rights body said in a statement only that there had been a release of individuals held in pre-trial detention but gave no details.
The move came a week before the Eid holiday marking the end of Ramadan. It is typically a time when prisoners are released on presidential pardons, but the number of those freed was one of the largest in recent years. Thousands of political prisoners, however, are estimated to remain inside Egypt’s jails, many without trial.
Among the released was political activist Waleed Shawky, his wife, Heba Anees, said on social media. She posted a picture of the couple hugging.
Journalist Mohamed Salah was also released, activist Esraa Abdel Fattah said. And Nabeh Elganadi, a human rights lawyer, posted a picture with Radwa Mohamed, who was arrested after making videos posted on social media criticizing President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
Under broad counterterrorism laws, Egypt’s state prosecutors have often used vague charges to renew 15-day pretrial detention periods for months or years, often with little evidence.
On Sunday, Sanaa Seif, the sister of one of Egypt’s most high-profile detained activists, Alaa Abdel Fattah, said her brother had faced new ill-treatment in prison and he was on the 22th day of a hunger strike.
Meanwhile, new arrests are still taking place. On Saturday, the human rights lawyer Khaled Ali said several men in the country’s south had been arrested and accused of spreading lies after they sung a song about rising food prices in a video posted online.
The government of el-Sissi — a U.S. ally with deep economic ties to European countries — has been relentlessly silencing dissenters and clamping down on independent organizations for years with arrests, detentions and jail sentences, and other restrictions.
Many of the top activists involved in the 2011 uprising in Egypt are now in prison, most of them arrested under a draconian law passed in 2013 that effectively bans all street protests.