HRW: Egyptian amnesty a positive step but not enough

President Mohamed Morsy's decision to pardon protesters detained over the 2011 revolution is a positive step but the vague wording could see some left behind bars, rights activists said on Tuesday.

"It's a very good decision but the distinction between a political detainee and a criminal one is fundamentally problematic," said Heba Morayef, a Cairo-based researcher with Human Rights Watch.

On Monday, a decree published on the presidency's official Facebook page announced an amnesty for deeds "committed with the aim of supporting the revolution and bringing about its objectives in the period 25 January 2011 to 30 June 2012, with the exception of crimes of murder."

The decree "allows for wriggle room and leaves the door open for [authorities] to say these are not revolutionaries," Morayef told AFP.

Massive protests erupted on 25 January last year that eventually toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Hundreds were detained during the 18-day uprising and hundreds more in the protests that followed when a military council, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, was in charge of the country.

But according to rights groups many of those detained were convicted after rushed and arbitrary investigations and questionable evidence.

The amnesty is "a step in the right direction but it is not enough," said longtime political activist Wael Khalil.

He believes Morsy should have ordered the retrial of those convicted of crimes.

"That would have been the principled thing to do," Morayef agreed.

Morsy's amnesty declaration covers protesters who already have convictions and those who are still under investigation or are on trial, according to the decree.

But defining those protesting "with the aim of supporting the revolution" could see many left behind bars, one rights activist said.

"The decision is very vague," said Maha Mamoun of the group No to Military Trials of Civilians.

"The problem is not so much with the [crackdowns during] demonstrations, but also with the random street arrests," she told the independent daily Al-Shorouk.

Several particularly bloody clashes in the areas surrounding Tahrir Square — the epicenter of the Egyptian revolt — saw the largest crackdowns on protesters by security forces.

Hundreds have been released during the military-led transition but many hundreds still remain behind bars.

The decree comes 100 days after Morsy, who emerged from the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, took office in June to become the first freely elected president of Egypt and its first civilian head of state.

The presidential decree was issued on the eve of the first anniversary of the Maspero massacre of more than 20 protesters during a Coptic Christian demonstration after the torching of church.

It also comes ahead of the anniversary of five days of battles last November between police and anti-SCAF protesters on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in which more than 40 people died and hundreds were injured.

In a recent report, Amnesty International had urged Morsy to end the "bloody legacy" of abuse rampant during the Mubarak years.

Morsy "has a historic opportunity to tackle the bloody legacy of police and army and guarantee that no one is above the law in Egypt," the human rights watchdog said.

It called on him to introduce "sweeping reform" to the security forces, highlighting alleged human rights violations during the military-led transition that followed the uprising.

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