CAIRO - Egypt's president issued a decree pardoning 165 people on Wednesday, mostly youths convicted of breaking protest laws and misdemeanors ahead of the holy month of Ramadan.
Pardons during national and religious holidays are a tradition in Egypt.
Many of the pardons issued by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi were to university students, some of whom were jailed under a draconian law that heavily punishes demonstrations staged without police permits.
The move comes amid a state-orchestrated campaign to silence dissent, where courts dispense stiff sentences against both Islamists, liberals and secular-minded activists over charges mostly related to violence. Thousands remain in jails.
Rights groups say many of the people were sentenced over the past two years to around three to four years of imprisonment, and that some were arrested at home or on the sidelines of protests in which they were not participating.
“It's not just the new protest law at work here, there's also a poor judiciary and lack of a credible investigative process, and some are being charged under another 100-year-old law limiting even small assemblies,'' said Mohammed Zaree of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
The protest measure became law after general el-Sissi-led military's ouster of Egypt's first freely elected civilian President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, part of a sweeping crackdown against his supporters and other dissidents.
The clampdown, which left hundreds dead and thousands in prison, some without charges, has sparked a radical backlash and attacks against security forces. It also fanned the flames of a long-running insurgency in the restive northern part of the Sinai Peninsula.
At dawn in the area's main city of el-Arish, a bomb destroyed an armored police vehicle, killing an officer and wounding four conscripts, a security official said.
No one immediately claimed the attack. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which refers to itself as the Sinai Province of the Islamic State group, regularly claims large-scale assaults in Sinai and last month released a video showing it killing several soldiers.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief journalists.