Journalism was granted a small triumph on New Year’s Day when Egypt’s top court ordered a retrial of three imprisoned Al-Jazeera journalists. Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy’s were charged for involvement in an alleged terrorist plot and ‘helping Muslim Brotherhood’ a cause which is against the Government.
The announcement came after two fifteen minute hearings took place and defence lawyers stated that the prosecutor’s evidence was “laughable.”
The men, who had been reporting for the network Al-Jazeera in the Middle East, have been imprisoned since December 2013. The retrial will begin within a month and can last up to an entire year.
Family members of the trio were disappointed with the verdict, as they expected much more than a retrial. Greste’s mother, Lois, said: “We need some time to process this. It is not as positive as we had hoped for.” Marwa Omara, his fiancé, said that he was just a “journalist who was doing his job.”
She claims the accusations of fabricating news and harming national security are false. Social media reacted strongly, an absolute minefield of news organisations shared the breaking information and a few members of the public shared their opinion. It is clear that whilst people are happy with some progress, everyone desires release and not retrial.
Debating freedom of speech
The three men were not present during the announcement and unfortunately they will not be able to apply for bail until the hearing begins. Thankfully, both Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste are looking to apply for deportation. This is possible due to a new presidential decree which allows foreign nationals to serve sentences in their home countries. Despite this small glimmer of hope for two of the men, Baher Mohammed can only hope for a successful retrial, as he does not possess a foreign passport.
No date for the new hearing has been set and the three will be spending some more time behind bars, but Mr Fahmy appears hopeful.
A retrial is a milestone toward victory in our free press battle!Our spirits are bullet-proof! Back to white garb! pic.twitter.com/9SOCxFT13E
— Mohamed Fadel Fahmy (@MFFahmy11) January 1, 2015
The journalists state that they were targeted as a pawns in the wider political games, and Fahmy’s family relate this imprisonment to the cold war between Egypt and Qatar. Whilst the Egyptian state accuse the three of harming national security and spreading false information, observers saw a very different situation.
They stress that this is an attack on freedom of expression and the jailing ignored usual due process. This singular case formed part of a larger crackdown of “anti-government” journalism in Egypt, which began during the Arab Spring. Another 13 journalists are imprisoned in Egypt at the moment.
An Al-Jazeera spokesman, in a statement to media outlets, said: “The Egyptian authorities have a simple choice – free these men quickly, or continue to string this out, all the while continuing this injustice and harming the image of their own country in the eyes of the world. They should choose the former.”
It seems that the fight for freedom of speech and freedom of those who practice it rages on.
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