Egypt army pardons 1,959 detainees, prominent activist

CAIRO Sat Jan 21, 2012 1:39pm EST

1 of 2. Demonstrators take part in a protest against the Egyptian military council at Tahrir square in Cairo January 20, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's military ruler has pardoned 1,959 people convicted by military courts in the year since President Hosni Mubarak's ouster, including activist Michael Nabil whose hunger strike had brought him close to death.

The state Al Nil television channel said the convicts had been pardoned by Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council that has ruled Egypt since Mubarak's removal in February 2011 in the midst of the Arab Spring protests that swept the region.

The pardon comes just four days before the first anniversary of the 18-day Egyptian uprising which began on January 25, though it was not clear if any of the detainees had yet been released.

Nabil, jailed by a military court for defaming the army, had his prison term reduced to two years from three in December following criticism from international human rights groups.

The 25-year-old was arrested in March and began a hunger strike to protest against his conviction for posting remarks saying the army had tried to quell the uprising against Mubarak.

The generals now ruling Egypt say the army took no part in a police crackdown on protesters and have pledged to hand over to civilian rule by June.

Activists say Nabil's case highlights the Egyptian army's heavy-handed approach to dissenters who criticize its top generals for using tactics reminiscent of Mubarak's regime.

"We can only say the revolution has succeeded when they release all activists, besides Michael, who are still being held in military courts and retry all civilians who have been prosecuted by courts they shouldn't have been prosecuted by," Nabil's brother Mark told Reuters.

No To Military Trials, a pressure group set up after the uprising, says at least 12,000 cases have come before the military courts since February. The group says sentences are often handed out swiftly behind closed doors and without proper legal representation.

It is not clear exactly how many activists and protesters convicted by military courts in the past year remain in jail.

The pardon comes as youth groups plan to hold major demonstrations to mark the anniversary of a revolt they say will not be complete until the generals hand power to civilians.

"The family has only received word of the decree but Michael is still in custody and they are waiting to hear of his movements," Mark Nabil said.

"The revolution must continue as long as any civilian is still being held unjustly in a military prison."

(Reporting by Lin Noueihed and Dina Zayed; editing by Myra MacDonald)

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