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Al-Jazeera journalists face more jail time, eye deportation

January 2, 2015

Three Al-Jazeera journalists faced Friday the prospect of at least several more weeks in Egyptian prison, with two of them awaiting a decision on whether they can be deported, lawyers and relatives said.

Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were detained in December 2013 for spreading false information and accused of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.

Their supporters say the charges were politically motivated.

Greste’s lawyer said he had submitted a request to have his client deported from Egypt under a new law signed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

A similar demand has been made to deport Fahmy to Canada, according to his brother, while Mohamed’s wife said she was looking at ways to get her husband out of Egypt.

In the first trial, Greste and Fahmy each got seven years, and Mohamed was jailed for 10.

Egypt’s top court on Thursday ordered a retrial, but kept the journalists in custody pending a new hearing.

A decree signed in November by Sisi allows him to deport foreigners sentenced to prison or on trial.

“We presented this week a request to the prosecutor to expel Greste in accordance with the presidential decree,” his lawyer Mostapha Nagi told AFP on Friday.

It is unclear how long the process will take, but Greste’s family said they would apply for bail if it failed.

They said they had been advised that a retrial could start within 45 days, meaning the three could potentially spend at least several more weeks in custody.

Speaking to reporters in Brisbane Friday, Greste’s brothers Mike and Andrew said that deportation was “the best option to get Peter home”.

A senior official from the prosecutor’s office said the journalists faced several possible outcomes.

“The court may order their release on bail, the president could order their deportation, or he could give them a presidential pardon, but only if there is a new verdict,” the official said.

– ‘Political’ sentence –

In a short hearing on Thursday, the Court of Cassation accepted requests by both the prosecution and defence for a retrial for the three jailed journalists.

Greste’s parents told Australia’s ABC News they were “shocked” by the decision.

“This was always on the cards but even though we have learnt not to expect anything, or (to) expect the unexpected, we did expect a little bit better than this,” his father Juris Greste was quoted as saying.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was more upbeat.

“He is now back in the position of an accused person awaiting a trial,” she told Australia’s Nine Network in comments reported by the AAP news agency.

Fahmy’s brother Adel told AFP that his legal team had submitted a deportation request.

“He has Canadian citizenship,” he said, adding that the decision rests with the Egyptian government.”

Mohamed’s wife Jihan said that if his two colleagues are deported “I will try to get him another nationality so he can also be extradited.”

– Silent protests –

Greste’s lawyer said that the three journalists were now wearing white prisoner uniforms instead of their usual blue fatigues, indicating their renewed status as accused individuals rather than convicts.

Hopes for the journalists’ release have grown since a thaw in diplomatic relations between Egypt and Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based.

The reporters, who authorities say lacked proper accreditation, were sentenced in June for aiding the Brotherhood after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Hundreds of journalists, many with black tape over their mouths, held silent protests after the three were sentenced to challenge what they see as growing media censorship in Egypt.

Egyptian authorities have been incensed by Al-Jazeera’s coverage of their deadly crackdown on supporters of Morsi, accusing Doha of backing his Muslim Brotherhood party after his overthrow in July 2013.

The Brotherhood, which saw electoral success after the ouster of longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, has since been declared a “terrorist organisation” in Egypt.

The court also ordered a retrial for four Egyptian co-defendants jailed for seven years on charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation and for “damaging the image of Egypt”.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.