Egypt: Retrial of Al Jazeera journalists must pave way to their unconditional freedom
An Egyptian court’s call for a retrial of three jailed Al Jazeera journalists acknowledges major flaws in the original convictions but leaves the men in unjust incarceration, Amnesty International said today.
“By calling for a retrial the Egyptian courts are prolonging the injustice that Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed have faced,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.
“These men should never have been jailed in the first place and should not have to spend one more day in prison. Instead of prolonging their unjust detention pending a retrial, they must be freed immediately.”
The Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest court of law, ruled that there had been procedural failings in the trial of Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed. The three are now set to face a retrial.
The trio are serving sentences of between seven and 10 years for “falsifying news” and involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which the authorities allege is involved in terrorism-related activity.
The Court of Cassation did not review the facts of the case and does not have the power to acquit the men of the charges against them. However, it found that the court that jailed the men had not followed correct legal procedures.
An Amnesty International trial observer recorded several irregularities and examples of complete ineptitude during the trial proceedings.
In 12 court sessions, the prosecution failed to produce a single shred of solid evidence linking the journalists to an organization involved in terrorism, or prove they had “falsified” news footage.
“The trial of these three men was a complete farce. Their only crime was to challenge the political narrative of the authorities,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“All three are prisoners of conscience, targeted simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression in carrying out legitimate activities as journalists.”
At least 16,000 people have been detained as part of a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Egypt, with activists estimating that the true figure is much higher.
Those targeted include government opponents and critics, as well as media workers and human rights activists.
Meanwhile, courts have acquitted security forces of killing detainees and thrown out criminal charges against former president Hosni Mubarak for conspiring to crush the “25 January Revolution”.
“The Court of Cassation’s decision bucks the current trend in Egypt’s criminal justice system, which is more than ever becoming a rubber stamp endorsing repression by the authorities,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“Courts are busy locking up government critics and political activists, while letting security forces and officials responsible for gross human rights violations walk free.”