CAIRO: Three journalists convicted in absentia in the famous Al-Jazeera case in Egypt have stated that a pardon is the “only way for them” to resolve the case, despite the fact that such a pardon would not expunge theirconviction.
The case, which started in 2013, included several Egyptian and foreign journalists, who denied a list of charges drawn against them, including aiding the Muslim Brotherhood group, working without license for the Qatari-based network in Egypt and broadcasting false newsthat endangers national security.
The Cairo Post interviewed three Al-Jazeera journalists: Australian Peter Greste and two Britons Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, who welcomed President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’sstep to pardon their imprisoned colleagues: Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed last week.
“I see President Sisi’s pardon for [Mohamed] and Fahmy to be the most important step since we were arrested…We always argued that it was wrong for any of us to be in prison and I am delighted that they have finally been released,” said Greste, who was arrested in 2013 and spent over 400 days in jail until he was deported in February. He was recently sentenced to three years in absentia in the case retrial.
“If President Sisi has recognized that [Mohamed] and Fahmy should be released, then it only makes sense to extend the pardons to all seven of us who were convicted in absentia – myself and the six others who were convicted in the first trial,” Greste added.
In comments on Sisi’s recent announcement to pardon journalists convicted in absentia, Greste said he was “greatly encouraged,” but “we have learned not to get our hopes up in this long-running case.”
At the time their colleagues were standingcourt, the trio Greste, Turton and Kane said they devoted their time to campaign for the case and achieve exoneration to all journalists.
“The campaign we launched was to tell the world that we were just journalists doing our jobs. We had no bias and no intent to promote one group or another,” said Turton, who was sentenced to 10 years in prisonin absentia.
The trio was outside jail; however, they could not freely practice their job due to travel restrictions that brought the career of some of them to a halt.
Turtonexplained that she can no longer “travel to conflict zones” that she had reported from before out of fear she might be “arrested and extradited to Egypt.”
“I feel very sad that I was targeted by Egypt in this way…I still don’t know why I was on the charge sheet but I do know that it has had a profound effect on my life.”
Turton resigned her job earlier this year and is now working on documentaries.
“I still want to go back to work. I still love my job, and I still believe in it,” said Greste, whoalso has not practiced journalism since he was released.
Greste believes that a pardon, if granted, “will have a serious impact on his ability to work freely.”
The journalists, however, admit they do not pin much hope on appealing their verdict.
Turtonwas “deterred”from appealing her verdict after Baher and Mohamed were sent back to prison last August after their retrial.
Amid their efforts to bring up the case to top leaders, the journalists were “fortunate enough to meet many important dignitaries from several different countries at the U.N. General Assembly in New York and to discuss this situation with them,” said Briton Dominic Kane, who was also sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia in the first trial of the case.
Along with the journalists who are seeking pardon in the Al-Jazeera case is the Dutch Journalist Rena Netjes. Netjeswas indicted although she announced she did not work for the Qatari network; she was sentenced to 10 years prison in absentia. Like the others, she also applied for a presidential pardon, however she sees “a pardon is strange,” because she “did do nothing wrong,” Netjes told The Cairo Post.
Sisi’s decision to pardon Mohamed and Fahmywas seen by the trio as a step forward in improving “Egypt’s relationship with the international press” and in “restoring confidence in press freedom.”
The state of press freedom in Egypt has attracted international condemnation to the country that was listed among worst jailers of reporters. At least 35 journalists are currently detained in Egypt, mostly over charges related to their work, Khaled el-Balshy, a member at the Press Syndicate, previously told The Cairo Post.
Asked if they would return back to Egypt if pardons were granted, the journalists, despite giving different accounts, expressed their deep affection to the country and its people. Greste said he would love to return to Egypt if he is granted a visa, while Turton felt “unsafe” to come back to Egypt as “people in Egypt still think we are guilty of terrorism. Is there a worse charge to be convicted of?”