Decree pardons Egypt protesters

Egypt's new president has issued a decree pardoning all those charged with or convicted of acts "in support of the revolution" since the beginning of the popular uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak from power.

The move by Mohammed Morsi was long demanded by Egypt's youth groups behind the uprising.

It could potentially benefit more than 1,000 protesters who are on trial following their arrests during demonstrations since the uprising against Mubarak erupted on January 25 last year and until Morsi was sworn in on June 30.

Those already convicted for their role in the protests may be pardoned. Most of those on trial or convicted were detained during the rule of the generals who took over after Mubarak stepped down in February last year.

Mohammed Gadallah, Mr Morsi's legal advisor, said the decree is "one of the revolution's most important victories". "It shows the revolution is now in power and guides the decision-making," Mr Gadallah said. "This is a legislation that protects the revolutionaries."

However, the wording of the decree is vague and does not immediately set anyone free, according to several human rights lawyers. It asks the prosecutor general and the military prosecutor to prepare a list of names, within a month of the decree being issued, of those who may benefit from the pardon.

The first article of the decree, which was published on Mr Morsi's official Facebook page, orders a "comprehensive pardon for crimes and misdemeanours or attempts to commit them in support of the revolution and the realisation of its goals". The only suspects exempted from the decree are those charged with premeditated murder over that time period.

Mr Gadallah said the decree is likely to cover all major court cases where protesters clashed with military troops and security forces. However, he admitted it is not clear how many would benefit from the pardon. Protesters on trial face charges ranging from resisting authorities, damaging public or private property or disrupting public order. More than a 12,000 civilians have been brought before military tribunals, many of them on charges such as "thuggery".

It will be up to the prosecutor general and the military prosecutor to name those who will be pardoned. Suspects who are excluded can challenge the decision, and a judicial panel would be the final arbiter.

Mr Seif said it could take months before pardons materialise.