A lawyer for 17 Islamists, many of them held since the 1990s, say they owe their release to a pardon issued by Mursi. At least three of the released Islamists had been condemned to death, said the lawyer Ibrahim Ali.
Those released in recent days include members of al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, jailed during the group’s armed insurrection against the state in the 1990s, and Islamic Jihad, the movement behind the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat.
Mursi is facing calls from Islamists to secure the release of the remaining few dozen of their brethren who they believe are being kept behind bars by security forces resistant to the new president’s wishes.
But he is also facing criticism from activists who are questioning his priorities, believing he has not moved far or fast enough to secure proper justice for thousands of others jailed by military courts since Mubarak was deposed, although he launched an investigation that did result in some releases.
“This carries a message: that even those who were condemned to death can be released,” Abdel Fattah said. The presidential spokesman could not be reached for comment, but a security source said the men had been released on Mursi’s orders.
Mursi has not spoken in public about the pardon for which he has been publicly thanked by al-Gama’a al-Islamiya. The group says those held in jail are innocent victims of summary justice in military and other courts where they were denied fair trials.
Islamist lawyers say some 2,000 Islamists have been released in the 18 months since Hosni Mubarak was removed from power, many of them last year on the orders of the council of military generals that steered the transition.
Men accused in killing of police
They have included high-profile figures such as Abboud al-Zumar, known as the man who supplied the bullets for the Sadat killing. Mohamed al-Zawahri, brother of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, also walked free earlier this year after a retrial cleared him of charges for which he had spent a decade in jail.
Ali, the lawyer, said the 17 men released in the last few days include two members of al-Gama’a al-Islamiya accused of killing a police officer a third accused of killing another police officer in a separate incident. He said the men had not been involved.
The violence culminated in the 1997 Luxor massacre carried out by a group of al-Gama’a al-Islamiya members who ignored a ceasefire declared by the group’s leaders. They killed 62 people, mostly foreign tourists, at a pharaonic temple. In 2003, the group published books renouncing violence.
Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya has moved into the political mainstream since Mubarak was removed from power, setting up a political party, winning seats in parliamentary elections and later campaigning on Mursi’s behalf in the presidential vote.
According to lawyers working for their release, Mursi had sought to secure freedom for all the Islamists still being held, but the security forces had blocked the move, signaling the resistance he is facing from unreformed security agencies.
Report from Egyptian media:
The names of the 26 Islamist convicts that were pardoned by President Mohamed Morsy on the occasion of Ramadan were published by the official state newspaper, the Egyptian Gazette, on Tuesday.
Among those listed were eight prisoners associated with the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood and 16 leading members of the formerly illegal Islamic Jihad and Jama’a al-Islamiya groups.
Also pardoned were a number of individuals who were sentenced in absentia, including Wagdy Ghoneim, who lives in Qatar; the Saudi preacher Awad al-Karni; Ibrahim Mounir, a Brotherhood leader who lives in London; Youssef Nada, the former foreign relations commissioner for the Brotherhood; Ibrahim Farouk; Mohamed al-Zayat, a Brotherhood businessman who lives in Germany; Brotherhood leader Tawfik al-Raie; the now deceased preacher Fathi Ahmed al-Kholi; and the Syrian engineer Ali Ghalib Mahmoud Hamt.
Morsy reduced Shaaban Abdel Ghani Haridi’s death sentence to 15 years in jail. Jama’a al-Islamiya lawyer Ibrahim Ali said that Haridi has therefore served his time and will be released from prison in a few hours.
Jama’a al-Islamiya and Islamic Jihad asked Morsy to pardon the rest of their 24 convicts currently held in Akrab prison, where they are serving sentences ranging from the death penalty to life imprisonment, on the grounds that their cases are similar with those who were pardoned.
Islamist lawyer Nizar Ghorab said that among the pardoned are two or three individuals who had been found guilty of involvement in the assassination of the late President Anwar Sadat in 1981 during a military parade in Cairo.
Since the toppling of former President Hosni Mubarak, several prominent Islamic figures have been released from jails, including Tarek al-Zomor and his cousin, the former head of Islamic Jihad Aboud al-Zomor, both of whom are also leading figures in the formerly illegal Jama’a al-Islamiya.
In 1982 both Tarek and Aboud were convicted on charges related to Sadat’s assassination. In March 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ordered their release along with other political prisoners who had already served 15 years or more of their jail terms.