Cairo court releases al-Jazeera journalists pending retrial

High court had overturned original sentences for assisting illegal Muslim Brotherhood

Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed and four other defendants were yesterday released by a Cairo court which had postponed the first session of their retrial until February 23rd. Only Mr Fahmy, who is considered a flight risk because he has a Canadian passport, was obliged to pay bail set at €29,000. The men expect to be set free within the next two days.

In January, Egypt’s high court overturned the sentences delivered in June 2014 and ordered a retrial, citing a lack of evidence supporting the charges levelled during the men’s original trial.

In yesterday’s session, defence lawyers called for the formation of a special body to review video material on the journalists’ laptops that had been used as evidence against them in the original trial.

Detained since December 2013, the journalists and their colleague Australian citizen Peter Greste and 15 others were sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for issuing false reports that aided the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.


Mr Mohamed was given an extra three years’ imprisonment after expended ammunition was found at his home in Cairo. Eleven of the other defendants were tried in absentia.

Mr Greste obtained his release and deportation on February 1st under the provisions of a recent law permitting foreign nationals to be deported to be retried or serve their sentences in their home countries. Mr Greste is also a defendant in the retrial but will be tried in absentia. He tweeted from his home in Brisbane: “This is a huge step forward. Not time to declare it over, but at least you get to go home.”

Mr Fahmy and Mr Mohamed’s lawyer argued that since Mr Greste had been released, the other defendants should also be freed. Lawyer Mohamed Hussein said that if a foreigner had been released, it was proper that an Egyptian should be accorded the same treatment.

Mr Fahmy, who has dual Canadian-Egyptian nationality, also applied for deportation under this law and renounced his Egyptian citizenship to qualify. However, he has reconsidered this decision, claiming he was “duped” into taking the action that failed to secure his release and deportation.

Canadian consular affairs officer Lyanne Yelich said: “While we welcome [his] release on bail, we continue to call for his immediate and full release . . . the prospect of Mr Fahmy standing retrial is unacceptable.” He should be allowed to return to Canada, she said.

If the men’s sentences are upheld at the new trial, they could apply for a presidential pardon. The departure of the journalists could mean Irish national Ibrahim Halawa (19) could lose his place in the VIP cell in Tora prison he shared with them.

Mr Halawa, who is Dublin-born of Egyptian parents, has been detained since August 2013 for taking part in a banned protest during which there were exchanges of fire between protesters and police. The charges against him – murder, attempted murder and destruction of public property – are more serious than those against the journalists.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times