Al Jazeera journalists face uncertain future

Menna Alaa El-Din, Sunday 30 Aug 2015

According to Egyptian law the president can’t issue a presidential pardon unless the verdict is final

Al Jazeera television journalists Mohamed Fahmy, C, and Baher Mohamed, L, talk to the media with lawyer Amal Clooney, 2nd R, Troy Lulashnyk, R, Canadian Ambassador to Egypt, before hearing the verdict at a court in Cairo, Egypt, August 29, 2015 (Reuters)

Three Al-Jazeera journalists and their advocates are still pushing for presidential pardons or deportations after an Egyptian court sentenced the journalists and other defendants to three years in jail on Saturday.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab met with prominent rights lawyer Amal Clooney, the advocate for convicted Al Jazeera bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, to discuss the possibility of a pardon, Al Ahram Arabic news website reported.

According to Sherif Fadel Fahmy, Fahmy’s brother, the Canadian ambassador to Egypt Troy Lulashnyk, along with Clooney, met Egypt's justice minister Ahmed El-Zend.

“We were told that there was a feeling in the meeting of a positive outcome,” Sherif Fahmy told Ahram Online.  

In a TV appearance with Egyptian CBC satellite anchor Lamis El-Hadidy on Saturday, Clooney said that it was time for the presidency to "put an end to this fiasco".

Clooney also pointed out that although a pardon is the preferred route, they would still continue to press for a deportation for Fahmy, as it could happen more quickly.

However, while advocates and lawyers for the three journalists remain hopeful about a solution for a case that has been portrayed as an embarrassment to Egypt, the future of the three journalists still remains ambiguous.

According to Egyptian law, the president can’t issue a presidential pardon unless the verdict is final.

The Al Jazeera prison sentences are not final, as they can be appealed. Appeal cases in Egypt can take months to be processed due to an overloaded legal system.

Both lawyers representing the defendants in the case, Mostafa Nagui and Shabaan Said, told Ahram Online that they would file an appeal.

Nagui added that he is optimistic the appeal session will take place by January or February 2016.

According to article 155 of the 2014 Egypt constitution, the president of the republic may issue a pardon or reduce a sentence after consultation with the cabinet.

The article reads: “General amnesty may only be granted by virtue of a law, ratified by the majority of the members of the House of Representatives”.

Egypt has been without a parliament since June 2012 when a court dissolved the lower chamber after ruling it was not constitutionally elected.

In regards to deportation, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi  issued in 2014 a presidential decree that allows foreign nationals to continue their pretrial detention or post-trial prison sentences in their home countries.

Peter Greste, one of the three Al Jazeera journalists who was handed a three-year jail terms, was deported in early February 2015 under the presidential decree.

Fahmy, a naturalised Canadian, gave up his Egyptian citizenship in February 2015 in an attempt to seek deportation like Greste.

His fate, however, still remains unclear after the convicted were taken to Tora prison following the verdict and declined visitations by family on Sunday. 

Following the ruling on Saturday, Clooney told reporters outside court that "it is time for President Sisi to intervene", adding that he said that he would pardon the journalists after the judicial process is over.

In June 2014, Egypt President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said that Egypt's authorities "will not interfere in judicial matters” following the first trial where the defendants were sentenced to between seven and ten years in jail.

El-Sisi also said he did not wish to see the foreign journalists prosecuted through a criminal process, and would have preferred for them to have been deported.

The defendants were found guilty of operating without a press license and broadcasting material harmful to Egypt.

The verdict garnered a series of international criticism and condemnation on Egyptian judiciary and whether its courts are ‘politically motivated’.

On Sunday, Egypt's ministry of foreign affairs summoned the British ambassador John Casson to express its rejection of his comments regarding the prison sentences handed down Saturday.

Casson expressed his country's support for stability in Egypt on Saturday, but added that “the question today is whether this will be a fragile and temporary stability on the basis of suspending freedoms of media and expression and depriving individuals of their rights in the Egyptian constitution.”

Canada said on Saturday it was disappointed by the Egyptian court's conviction of the Canadian journalist who worked for Al-Jazeera and called for his "immediate" return.

The United States said it was "deeply disappointed and concerned” following the ruling.

The European Union also criticised the ruling, describing it as "a setback" for freedom of speech in Egypt”.

In a statement issued on Sunday on its official Facebook page, the Egyptian foreign ministry labeled the international criticism of the ruling as "politically motivated”, considering it an "unacceptable interference" in the Egyptian judiciary. 


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