Tuesday, January 6, 2015
By Alexandra Zakreski On January 1, Al Jazeera English journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were granted a retrial in their appeal against terrorism charges. Requests for bail were denied. The decision, ordered by Egypt’s Court of Cassation, means that all of the elements of the first trial, including the guilty verdict, have been nullified. However, the three journalists remain accused of the same crimes and thus remain imprisoned. The retrial is expected to begin within a month and is expected to be much shorter than the first, which dragged on for five months. In response to the decision, Canadian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular Services Lynne Yelich stated that while the federal government “maintains serious concerns with the judicial process...[they] welcome this decision and anticipate the new judicial process involving Mr. Fahmy to be conducted in a fair, transparent, and expedited manner.” Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird will visit Egypt later this month to advocate for Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and is also reportedly considering a request for a meeting with two of Fahmy’s defense lawyers, Amal Clooney and Mark Wassouf. During the January 1 hearing, several key claims from the original trial were deemed invalid; notably, the allegation that any employee of Al Jazeera media network is a Muslim Brotherhood member, and the charge that the journalists are members of a terrorist group. While this is a positive development, there are still many issues that may prevent a retrial from reaching a favourable outcome for the unjustly detained journalists. In the Huffington Post, Clooney and Wassouf expressed their lack of confidence in the potential fairness of a retrial, since it would take place within the same deeply flawed Egyptian judicial framework as the previous trial. They write, “The charges themselves are a violation of the right to free expression under Egyptian and international law. There are no guarantees that a new panel of judges would respect due process or demand cogent evidence before concluding a crime was committed.” There is an acute danger that the judges in the retrial will repeat the same procedural violations and infractions of the original illegitimate trial. As a result, Clooney and Wassouf continue to push for Fahmy’s release through other avenues, specifically through Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s decree, which allows him to deport foreigners accused of a crime on Egyptian soil. While Australian Peter Greste is a clear candidate for release under these terms, Fahmy’s situation is a bit more complicated. In order for Fahmy to be subject to the decree, he would likely have to drop his Egyptian citizenship, which he has previously expressed reluctance to do. The Canadian government would also need to support such a transfer. For Baher Mohamed, it is highly unlikely that he could be released under similar terms, as he only holds an Egyptian passport. However his wife is reportedly searching for a way to also get him out of the country. There has yet to be a date set for the first day of the retrial, and the journalists continue to suffer after more than a year in prison. CJFE urges the Egyptian government to unconditionally free Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed. Failing that, we urge them to be released on bail for their retrial.
Alexandra Zakreski is CJFE’s International Programs Coordinator.
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