Egypt court accepts appeal of Al-Jazeera journalists, orders retrial

Mariam Rizk , Thursday 1 Jan 2015

AJ Staff in Jail
Al-Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed in court in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

Egypt's Court of Cassation accepted Thursday an appeal filed against sentences handed down to three jailed Al-Jazeera journalists and ordered a retrial to be scheduled.

The three were not granted bail, however, meaning that they will remain behind the bars, after one year in detention.

Journalists of the Doha-based network, Egyptian-Canadian and Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed and Australian correspondent Peter Greste, were sentenced in June to jail terms ranging from seven to 10 years on charges of spreading false news and aiding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.

The defendants denied the allegations saying they were simply doing their jobs.

The case stirred international uproar.

Diplomatic representations from the Australian and Canadian embassies were present at the Thurday court session that was characterised by heightened security.

The defendants' lawyers had appealed the criminal court's ruling, saying it was faulty for a number of reasons, including breaching due process rights of defence and including deficiencies in reasoning.

Lawyers said the defendants were physically and psychologically assaulted and forced to confess to crimes they did not commit.

The defendants did not attend the brief hearing. 

Defence lawyer Mostafa Nagi said the Court of Cassation, Egypt's highest appeal court, is not entitled to order the release of defendants and thus their remaining behind the bars was expected. Nagi said he expected a retrial within a month.

"This is certainly a positive step," Nagi told Ahram Online.

Some family members of the detained journalists, however, were not satisfied with the decision Thursday

"I'm not happy with the ruling," Marwa Emara, Fahmy's fiancé, said, expressing concerns over Fahmy's health, which was deteriorating in prison. "I wish Fahmy was referred to trial in Canada."

"Staying behind bars threatens his life," Emara added.

"The lawyer told me what to expect, but I had a wish he would be released," Jihan Rashed, Baher's wife, said.

In November, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi issued a decree giving himself authority to transfer non-Egyptian defendants to be tried in their own countries.

The decision at the time was expected to be utilised in the highly publicised Al-Jazeera journalists case, as two of the three detained defendants, Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, hold foreign nationality.

For Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, this option is foreclosed.

"This is a case of journalists, not a case of foreigners or Egyptians," Rashed said, brushing off suggestions that foreigners might get special treatment in the case.

The court's decision Thursday came amid a nearing rapprochement between Egypt and Qatar after months of soured relations due to the latter's support of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and his group.

Last week, Al-Jazeera announced it was taking its controversial Egyptian service Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr off air. The station was accused of openly supporting deposed president Morsi.

El-Sayed Gamal El-Din contributed in reporting.

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