Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1223, (27 November - 3 December 2014)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1223, (27 November - 3 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Scent of freedom

Al-Jazeera journalists might be home for Christmas, writes Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said on Thursday that he was considering pardoning journalists of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news network jailed in Egypt for nearly a year on charges of supporting a terrorist organisation.

Asked if he could pardon Al-Jazeera journalists during an interview with France 24 Al-Sisi replied: “Let us say ways to solve this issue are being discussed”.

Peter Greste, an Australian citizen, has been in jail since December 2013 along with Canadian-Egyptian national Mohamed Fahmi and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, all from the Qatar-based television network.

The three Al-Jazeera journalists were sentenced in June to between seven and 10 years in jail on charges that included spreading lies to help a “terrorist organisation”, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Court of Cassation has scheduled an appeal hearing in the case for 1 January. The three journalists are contesting their convictions on the grounds of flawed evidence.

Peter’s parents, Lois and Juris Greste, say hopes for their son’s release were restored after watching Al-Sisi’s interview with the French television channel.

Greste’s parents appealed to Al-Sisi on Friday to release their son in time for Christmas. “We realise that the decision to free Peter isn’t entirely in your hands alone, but please, please see to it that Peter is back with his family before Christmas,” Juris Greste said during a press conference held in Brisbane.

Greste’s parents, who plan to visit Cairo for their son’s birthday on 1 December, said: “We just have to remain patient and hope for the best.”
On 12 November, a week before his interview with France 24, Al-Sisi issued a decree allowing him to repatriate foreign prisoners. The move could enable the release of two of the Al-Jazeera journalists. Baher, who is Egyptian, is not expected to benefit.

Egypt’s relations with Qatar have been strained since Mohamed Morsi’s ouster following mass protests on 31 June 2013. Qatar, which funds Al-Jazeera, was supportive of both Morsi and the Brotherhood. Tensions have shown signs of easing recently. Qatar expelled prominent Brotherhood leaders in September and Egypt last week welcomed an agreement to end the dispute among Gulf Arab states over Qatar’s support for the Islamist group.

“The president issued a law allowing [him] to agree to transport non-Egyptian convicts and suspects to their countries to be tried or have their punishment implemented,” presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef was quoted by the official news agency MENA.

It is still unclear whether the new law will apply to Egyptians with dual nationality. “This decision comes in the framework of upholding the nation’s interests and preserving Egypt’s international image...,” Youssef said.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told ABC that Al-Sisi’s comments were a step forward. “If there are indications from the Egyptian president that he will do that [consider a pardon] prior to the hearing of the appeal then we would welcome that,” she said.

Responding to international pressure to release the journalists last month Al-Sisi said the best way to deal with violations committed by foreign journalists was to deport them. He made it clear, however, that he could not interfere in the judicial process, insisting the country’s judiciary is “completely independent”.

Al-Jazeera has called the accusations against its employees “absurd”. Their trial was condemned by Western governments and human rights groups and led to the United Nations questioning the independence of Egypt’s judiciary.

More recently Judge Mohamed Shehata, who sentenced the Al-Jazeera journalists to prison, was criticised in a statement issued by the Egyptian Lawyers’ Syndicate on Saturday. He was accused of “disparaging” and “terrorising” the defence team of prominent activist Ahmed Doma who is on trial for taking part in a protest.

Shehata referred five of the six lawyers defending Doma to prosecutors for investigation, an unprecedented event in Egypt. The judge accused them of “disrespecting” his person.

Doma’s entire defence team has withdrawn from the case in protest. The Lawyers’ Syndicate has backed their decision, and instructed members to boycott Shehata’s court.

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