A court in Egypt has ordered the release on bail of two Al Jazeera journalists, at the start of their retrial on the charge of spreading false news to help a terrorist group. Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were imprisoned in June along with their Australian colleague, Peter Greste, who was released on February 1. The three initially were sentenced to at least seven years before a retrial was ordered.
The pair were in court behind a soundproof glass cage for the first time—a recent feature in Egyptian courts, as authorities seek to limit the ability of defendants to protest or interrupt proceedings. The judge controls when the defendants can be heard through a microphone, and families and lawyers complained that it was hard to see the defendants inside the courtroom cage.
Greste was freed after a new decree granting Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi the power to deport foreigners. Many expect the Cairo Criminal Court to release Fahmy, who dropped his Egyptian citizenship to be eligible for deportation. However, the fate of Baher, who only holds Egyptian citizenship, remains uncertain.
Mr Fahmy has given up his Egyptian citizenship to qualify for deportation to Canada, but Mr Mohamed has no foreign passport. The journalists strenuously deny collaborating with the banned Muslim Brotherhood after the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi by the military in 2013. They say they were jailed simply for reporting the news.
The first trial of the journalists was widely condemned internationally, and the Court of Cassation ruled on 1 January the the Cairo Criminal Court had been “hasty in pronouncing its verdict”. All three of the men work as reporters for the Al Jazeera Media Network, who welcomed Grestes release earlier this month.
“We’re pleased for Peter and his family that they are to be reunited. It has been an incredible and unjustifiable ordeal for them, and they have coped with incredible dignity. Peter’s integrity is not just intact, but has been further enhanced by the fortitude and sacrifice he has shown for his profession of informing the public.”
The imprisonment of the three journalists has ignited an online campaign to support their releases and has been condemned by freedom of press advocates around the globe. The Committee to Protect Journalists has also repeatedly urged Egyptian Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to release the Al Jazeera prisoners.
The arrests and imprisonment of Al Jazeera employees have undoubtedly heightened tensions between Egypt and Qatar, especially since Egypt views the Al Jazeera channel located in Qatar as sympathetic to the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood.
[Image via BBC News]