CAIRO: Amnesty International said in a Thursday statement that the retrial of the three jailed Al-Jazeera journalists “must pave way to their unconditional freedom.”
Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian national Baher Mohamed had their conviction overturned Thursday by Egypt’s Court of Cassation, bringing the case back to start before a new court.
“I think the best for the image of Egypt’s judiciary is to be the only entity to end the case with a fair judgment; that is an acquittal,” Shaaban Saeed, a member of the defense team of the case, known as “Mariott Cell”, told The Cairo Post Friday.
Saeed said that “there is a grossly injustice and the case is legally baseless,” which requires the release of the defendants from the court, regardless to President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s decree to deport the two foreign national defendants.
He added that the defense team will request the release of the defendants pending investigations, on the first retrial session.
The one-year jailed journalists were handed down seven -10 year imprisonment in June 2014 over charges of spreading lies in an attempt to aid a “terrorist group”; in reference to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group. The charges and the past trial procedures were criticized as a sham after “the prosecution failed to produce a single shred of solid evidence linking the journalists to an organization involved in terrorism,” read Amnesty statement.
Negad el-Borai, appeal attorney of journalist Mohamed Fahmy, told BBC Thursday that the cassation prosecutor found “major problems” in the past legal procedurals. El-Borai also added that he thinks the old verdict was overturned because it was not based on a legal basis and instead on a misconception of “If you work for Al-Jazeera, automatically you are a member in the Muslim Brotherhood which is untrue and illegal.”
While Thursday’s verdict did not meet hopes of the trio’s families for a release, BBC reported that the Greste family found the ruling as a “step in the right direction” and is seeking deportation as the “next best result.”
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the law in Egypt had changed since Greste and his colleagues were arrested, and that there are more legal options to be pursued.
A presidential pardon, waved in November by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, was one of the options if the Cassation Court had upheld the old verdict. But now, only two of the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera journalists specifically those with foreign nationalities, are left with the deportation option.
Saeed said that, according to the recent law issued by Sisi, non-Egyptians can be deported at any time as the repatriation law is an “exceptional legal route.” The law allows the President to send only non-Egyptian defendants to be tried or serve a prison sentence in their home countries.
With the nationality restrictions, the Egyptian journalist Baher Mohamed was left with limited options.
Also the dual Egyptian –Canadian citizen Mohamed Fahmy was said to benefit from the deportation law, on condition that he relinquished his Egyptian nationality, according to Fahmy’s Appeal Attorney Negad el-Borai. However, Fahmy said he would not renounce his Egyptian nationality.
Since the law is still new, it still lacks some details about regulations and implementation. Lawyer Saeed said that it is believed that the decree “was enacted to be used for this case.”
Australian Associated Press quoted Friday Greste’s brother Andrew as saying “we’ve got to be hopeful. It’s a new decree and there’s very little understood about it, there’s very little regulation, there’s no precedent. We are in uncharted waters.”
Days before the appeal is considered, positive speculations rose after a perceived international relations thaw between Egypt and Qatar loomed after 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 tension, after the later was seen biased to the ousted President Mohamed Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood.