CAIRO (AP) — Egypt on Thursday pardoned 82 detainees, including many students and a former TV host convicted of "defaming religious symbols."
The names of those pardoned by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi were compiled by a committee he set up to examine the cases of young detainees who had not been involved in violence.
Members of the committee have said active members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group would not be pardoned. The military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, who hailed from the Brotherhood, in 2013.
El-Sissi, who led his ouster, was elected the following year.
Authorities have detained thousands of people in the last three years, mostly Islamists but also prominent secular activists. The government has not said how many detainees are being held, but rights groups estimate the number at between 20,000 and 40,000.
Those released Thursday included more than 30 students, five of them aged 18 and 19. The 82 also included 21-year-old news photographer Mohammed Ali Salah Mohammed. A second batch of detainees are expected to be pardoned before the end of the year.
The government maintains that there are no political detainees in Egypt, arguing that everyone in detention is being accorded due process. Rights activists say a large number of detainees are being held, sometimes for as long as two years, without charge or trial.
Among those released Thursday was Islam Behery, who was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison in March.
Behery had used his television program to air calls for the removal of what he described as "extremist material" in texts of religious interpretation and heritage. He was also a vocal advocate for religious reforms and argued that some texts by historic Islamic scholars — including ones upheld and revered by Al-Azhar, the pre-eminent seat of Sunni scholarship — contain passages that promote extremism.
His incarceration has been cited by critics as an example of the government's crackdown on freedom of expression, as well as the conservative discourse of Al-Azhar and its reluctance to modernize.
The decision to create the committee was taken during a youth conference attended by el-Sissi last month after a handful of speakers raised the question of young people arrested for participating in peaceful protests, opposing the government or simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
In September 2015, el-Sissi pardoned two Al-Jazeera English journalists, ending a case that was widely condemned by human rights groups. On the same day he pardoned about 100 people, including dozens of human rights activists, most of whom were convicted and imprisoned for breaking a 2013 law that prohibits unauthorized protests.
Some of the best-known activists behind the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak have also been jailed. None were among those released Thursday or last year.