Al-Jazeera case: Egypt president says pardons 'discussed'

Image caption,
The three jailed al-Jazeera journalists: Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi says he is considering the possibility of granting pardons to two of the three Al-Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt.

"Let us say that this matter is being discussed to solve the issue," Mr Sisi said in an interview with France 24.

The journalists are appealing against seven-year sentences given in June on charges including spreading false news.

President Sisi has previously refused to intervene in the case, despite an international outcry and condemnation.

However, last week he issued a decree allowing foreigners charged or sentenced in Egypt to be repatriated.

'If appropriate'

Egyptian-Canadian bureau chief Mr Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were sentenced to seven years in prison on 23 June.

When asked about a possible pardon for the journalists in an interview with French broadcaster France 24, President Sisi said the issue was "under study".

"If we find that this is appropriate for Egyptian national security, then we will do it," he added.

As an Egyptian national, Mr Mohamed would not be expected to benefit from such a pardon.

In addition to charges of defamation, the journalists were also convicted of supporting Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood - charges they have denied. They were first arrested on 29 December last year.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Egypt has launched a crackdown on leading Muslim Brotherhood figures over the past year

President Sisi's comments to the French broadcaster may signal a change in tack, as the president had earlier stressed he would not interfere with the judicial rulings.

Speaking days after the trial ended, he said he would have preferred the journalists to have been deported, rather than prosecuted in Egypt, acknowledging that the trial had "very negative effects".

The sentencing of the journalists from the Qatar-based broadcaster has raised concerns over growing media restrictions in Egypt.

Separately on Thursday, Egyptian police arrested a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Ali Bishr, as part of the authority's sweeping crackdown on the banned group.

Thousands of Brotherhood members and other opposition figures have been imprisoned since Islamist President Mohamed Morsi was ousted from power last year.

President Sisi, a former military chief, was elected in May this year after leading the crackdown on Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.