An Egyptian court has released two Al Jazeera journalists on bail. The journalists are being retried on suspicion that they were aiding the proscribed Muslim Brotherhood by reporting false news. Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed had previously been convicted and sentenced to seven to ten years in prison along with their Australian colleague, Peter Greste. They have been in prison since their arrest in December 2013.
Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy were arrested at the Cairo Marriot Hotel. Baher Mohamed was arrested in his home. By January 29, 2014, the three men, along with 20 others, had been charged with belonging to a terrorist organization, reporting false news, and working without a permit. In June, Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison. Mohamed received an additional three years.
Less than two weeks ago, Greste was released to return to his home in Australia after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi signed a decree allowing foreign prisoners to be deported. Fahmy, who had dual citizenship in Egypt and Canada, was told that he would be unable to leave the country under this decree unless he renounced his Egyptian citizenship. He did so reluctantly, but since he and Mohamed were released on bail, they are required to remain in Egypt until their trial resumes on February 23.
The three journalists, their families, and Al Jazeera are glad that the Egyptian court has taken this step, but say that the trial should not have happened in the first place. Mohamed’s wife said that the case should have been over by now. She said after the judge announced her husband’s release that she was going straight home to tell her children that their father is coming home.
Fahmy’s relatives have been outraged at the retrial. Marwa Omara, his fiance, blames the Canadian government for not doing enough. She told reporters that the Canadian embassy in Egypt kept telling her that Fahmy would be released. She quit her job, packed her things, and waited to hear that she could meet her fiance at the airport, but the call never came. She also said that it was unfair that her fiance was still on trial when his colleague had already been released.
An Al Jazeera spokesman said that the Egyptian court’s decision to release the journalists was a step in the right direction. However, he said that he wants to see the court make a better judgement this time. He called the case absurd and said that the ideal outcome was for the journalists to be released unconditionally after the next hearing.
Some analysts believe that the arrest and charges against the journalists has been a form of retaliation in the long-standing dispute between the Egyptian government and Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based. Al Jazeera’s coverage of Egyptian affairs on its local channel and main network has often been critical of the unrest there. Those following the case and those involved in it remain hopeful that the Egyptian court’s decision to release the Al Jazeera journalists is a step toward reconciliation.
By Kirstin Pinto