Three Al Jazeera journalists jailed for more than a year have been granted a retrial by Egypt’s top appeals court, acknowledging flaws in the initial trial. The news is the first sign of hope for the prisoners and their families, as well as human rights advocates worldwide.
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For 369 days, a trio of Al-Jazeera journalists has been held in an Egyptian jail. But, today, with the latest ruling from Egypt's highest appeals court, their case took a hopeful turn.
Outside the Cairo courthouse, a crowd dominated by police and media waited for news on the Al-Jazeera journalists' appeals. In June, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were handed seven-to-10-year sentences on charges of publishing false Egyptian news and aiding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.
But outside Egypt, the trial was widely viewed as a sham and the verdicts sparked an international outcry. Supporters organized protests and social media campaigns, claiming the journalists were unfairly caught up in tensions between Egypt and Qatar, the owners of Al-Jazeera.
But the two countries have recently begun a public reconciliation. And in December, Greste thanked his supporters in a letter written from his Cairo cell, saying — quote — "We have created a huge global awareness of not just our cause, but the far wider and more vital issues of press freedom, the persecution of journalists, and of justice in Egypt."
Today, Egypt's highest court granted the three retrials. Lawyers for the journalists welcomed the decision, saying the initial verdicts were based on flawed evidence.
NAGAD AL-BORAI, Lawyer For Mohammed Fahmy:
They assume that if you work for Al-Jazeera, automatically, you are a member in the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not true and is illegal.
Still, family members expressed disappointment that the three wouldn't be released on bail.
JAZEERA ADEL FAHMY, Mohammed Fahmy’s Brother:
I was expecting, yes, a retrial, but I was expecting, with that, a release today. We were really hoping for that. We wanted Mohamed to come with us home today.
And in Doha, Al-Jazeera's managing director pushed for an expedited retrial.
MUSTAFA SOUAG, Managing Director, Al Jazeera (through interpreter):
We welcome this initial verdict and we request their immediate release without any conditions. Leaving them in jail, regardless of how long they are there, is another indication to the global media, Al-Jazeera and all the journalists that the press is still oppressed in Egypt.