Al-Jazeera journos to be retried; chances for release discussed
Al-Jazeera English producer Baher Mohamed, left, Canadian-Egyptian acting Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, center, and correspondent Peter Greste, right, appear in court along with several other defendants during their trial - AP

CAIRO: The court of Cassation accepted Thursday an appeal submitted by the three Al-Jazeera English journalists against seven -10 year imprisonment sentences that were handed to them in June 2014 over broadcasting false news.

Egypt’s Court of Cassation, the exclusive body atop the judicial hierarchy in the country, said that the journalists will remain in custody until a new trial is held. The date of the retrial has not been determined yet.

The defendants were not allowed to attend today’s brief hearing as part of appeal protocol.

Lawyer Waleed Farouq told The Cairo Post Thursday the court is not competent to order a release on bail for the journalists. “The court of cassation only decides whether the trial’s procedures were right or wrong and accordingly accepts or rejects the appeal,” said Farouq.

Farouq added that the assigned judge in the new court is the one who considers a bail for the journalist, but after a request from the defendants’ attorney.

The re-trial of the trio: Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, all working for the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera network, is expected to start within a month. Yet there are no official confirmations.

The potential legal procedures following today’s ruling are; “an upheld to the first court ruling, a reduction or an overturn, which means acquittal,” lawyer Mohamed Zarea, head of Arab Penal Reform Organization, told The Cairo Post Thursday.

“The case is back as though it is on its first trial day, where the new court will start considering the case and reviewing its files from scratch,” added Zarea.

In a November interview, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has waved he is considering a pardon for the Al-Jazeera journalists; however, lawyers find his intervention now is not possible as the case is still running before the judiciary.

Zarea explained “Although it is debatable, but the preponderant opinion is saying that the president cannot intervene in the judicial matters unless there is a final verdict.”

Furthermore, Zarea saw that Sisi’s recent deportation law to send non-Egyptian defendants to their home countries does not apply to this phase of the case “as the law requires a memorandum from the public prosecution to send the defendants, and the prosecution has nothing to do now with the case after the end of the investigations.”

Since the case is “sensitive” and has attracted wide attention, Zarea believes that the case will not last long before the new court.

Human Rights Lawyer Ali Atef, who works for the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), told The Cairo Post that the retrial of the journalists is expected to be based on the past investigation reports. However, the new court can order “supplementary investigations” if needed, due to lack of information or evidences. The procedures of the past trial of the three journalists were criticized as a sham as some evidences, which were presented before the court, lacked relevance.


Families react as their hopes for a release fade

Although Thursday’s court has nullified the controversial sentences against the jailed journalists, it did not meet the hopes of their families as they were expecting today’s decision to allow their jailed relatives out on bail.

Gehan, the wife of jailed Baher Mohamed told Al-Jazeera “I was waiting for the release of my husband and his colleagues because the case is political and I hope the new trial does not last long.”

“A retrial is a milestone toward victory in our free press battle! Our spirits are bullet-proof! Back to white garb,” said the Twitter account of Fahmy.

Geste’s parents were chocked, according to The Guardian as as his father Lois said via Egypt-based correspondent Peter Greste “I can’t believe it,” and his mother Juris said: “I’m shocked.”


Fingers crossed hours before retrial ordered

Few hours before the trial, Twitter activists were reacting with hopes for positive developments on the case, which coincides with the celebrations of the New Year.

“Let’s begin the new year with freedom for Peter Greste and his colleagues. Journalism is not a crime,” Twitter user @delna_24 said on her account Thursday.

“Hoping the New Year gets off to a good start for Baher, Peter and Mohammed,” said Osama Saeed the head of the Al-Jazeera PR department as he defines himself on his Twitter account @OsamaSaeed.

Days before the appeal is considered, positive speculations rose after a perceived international relations thaw between Egypt and Qatar when the Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr Channel was announced suspended and expected to operate again from Egypt after completing its licenses.

The imprisonment of the three Al-Jazeera journalists, not only was internationally condemned, but was also referred to as a consequence of the escalated Egypt- Qatar tensions, after the later was seen biased to the ousted President Mohamed Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood.

Fahmy, Greste and Baher will be facing a re-trial over their past charges of spreading false news in favor of a terrorist organization, a reference to the banned Brotherhood group.

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