CAIRO: There is still a chance for three jailed Al-Jazeera journalists to receive a presidential pardon, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shokry told Reuters Wednesday, on the sidelines of his visit in Nairobi, Kenya.
The imprisonment of Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed has attracted wide attention and criticism by different human rights and press organizations, who have demanded their unconditional release.
The three have been in prison since Dec. 29, 2013 on charges of spreading false news in favor of a “terrorist group,” in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Upon their accusation, they received prison sentences between seven to 10 years. Although the verdict that was overturned on Jan. 1, 2015 by Egypt’s highest court of appeal, the three will remain in prison until their retrial, the date of which has not yet been set.
A presidential pardon for the three Al-Jazeera journalists would only be possible once a final verdict is reached, and cannot happen in the middle of legal proceedings.
Shokry added during his visit that a pardon is “an avenue that might be pursued,” but when the president considers it “necessary and appropriate to do so.” According to legal experts and judges in previous interviews, a presidential pardon is used when the president finds it serves “nation’s higher interest.”
The fate of the three, who were arrested while on a work mission in Cairo, currently depends on the retrial, Reuters quoted Shokry as saying.
A small protest by tens of Kenya-based journalists was seen during Shokry’s visit in the United Nations compound in Nairobi.
Being a Qatari-owned network, Al Jazeera is widely believed to be a mouthpiece for the Qatari government as well as the Muslim Brotherhood.
However, a recent decision by the network to suspend its channel allocated to cover Egyptian affairs has created positive speculations, which was noted in Shokry’s statement as a possible “contributing factor” to an end to the journalists’ case.
Mohamed Fahmy’s family are also hopeful for the future of the case, and at the same time are seeking the release or deportation of their jailed son on health grounds, according to his fiancé Marwa Omara in statements to The Cairo Post.
It was also reported that Greste’s family is also pressing for him to be deported, following a recent presidential decree that would allow the deportations of non-Egyptian convicts to serve their sentences or be tried in their home countries. Left with limited options, Egyptian journalist Baher Mohamed, who has no second nationality, must wait for the retrial.
International efforts have also been exerted to guarantee a release for the three journalists; the Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird is currently in Egypt for a two-day visit, on the sidelines of which he will push for the release of the journalist Mohamed Fahmy who also has Canadian citizenship.