CAIRO (TIP): Canadian Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy was released from an Egyptian jail on Friday, after spending more than a year in prison on terror-related charges in a case that was denounced as a sham by rights groups and the international community. He was let out pending a retrial.
Fahmy’s brother tweeted that he posted $33,000 bail following a court decision that allowed him to walk free. It was not clear if Fahmy’s colleague, Al-Jazeera journalist Baher Mohammed, also was being released. A third co-worker, Australian Peter Greste, was released two weeks ago and deported to his home-country, Australia.
Fahmy spent more than 400 days in detention after he was charged with terrorism for providing the Muslim Brotherhood, now declared a terrorist organization, with a platform. His next court hearing is Feb. 23 and he has to check in at a police station every day until then.
Thursday’s decision indicated the court was moving ahead with a retrial of Fahmy and Mohammed. Still, it was greeted with tears of joy and relief by their relatives who attended the hearing in the Cairo courtroom.
Al-Jazeera called the decision “a small step in the right direction” but said the court should dismiss “this absurd case” and release both journalists unconditionally.”
The three journalists, who worked for Al-Jazeera’s English-language channel, were arrested in December 2013 and accused of belonging to the Brotherhood, which was branded a terrorist organization after the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi earlier that year.
Since the ouster, Egypt has been cracking down heavily on Morsi’s supporters, and the journalists were accused of being mouthpieces for the Brotherhood and falsifying footage to suggest that Egypt faces civil war. They rejected the charges against them, saying they were simply reporting the news.
The journalists were convicted by a lower court on terrorism-related charges and sentenced to at least seven years in prison. The Court of Cassation, the country’s highest appeals court, said in ordering a retrial that their conviction was based on “flawed evidence” and that the trial was marred by violations of the defendants’ rights, according to details of its ruling made public this week.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had rejected calls from the United States and other Western governments to pardon or commute the sentences. In July, he acknowledged that the heavy sentences had a “very negative” impact on his country’s reputation and that he wished they had never been put on trial.
Cairo has signaled it wants to resolve the case and end the criticism ahead of a major economic conference next month to drum up international investment. Egypt’s ties with Qatar have thawed, and Al-Jazeera’s Egyptian affiliate was shut down.
But officials have never said outright that the controversy would be worked out, insisting on the independence of the courts — and keeping Fahmy and Mohammed’s fate murky.
Several outcomes are possible in the retrial. It could eventually throw out the case, acquit them, convict them but sentence them to time served, or impose more prison time, with the possibility of a pardon from el-Sissi.
The journalists and their families say they were caught in the bitter feud between Egypt and Qatar, the Gulf nation that owns Al-Jazeera and is the main backer of the Muslim Brotherhood.