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Al-Jazeera journalists freed from Egypt prison

February 13, 2015

Two Al-Jazeera journalists were freed from an Egyptian prison Friday pending retrial, their families said, after spending more than a year in jail in a case that provoked global uproar.

A Cairo court on Thursday ordered the release of Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, who face retrial on charges of supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.

“We finished the procedures for the release of my brother a short while ago,” Mohamed’s brother Assem told AFP.

“He is at home for the first time in more than a year.”

Fahmy’s brother Adel posted on Twitter: “My brother has been released from the police station! I am going on holiday before they arrest him again!”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed their release, urging authorities to free other journalists “in accordance with Egypt’s international obligations to protect the freedoms of expression and association”.

Fahmy, Mohamed and Australian Peter Greste were arrested in December 2013 and sentenced to between seven and 10 years for aiding the Muslim Brotherhood of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

Greste was deported February 1 under a decree signed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi allowing foreigners to face trial or serve their sentences in their home countries.

The Australian said Friday he was overjoyed at his two colleagues’ release but said that it was too soon to celebrate with a retrial pending.

“The trial is ongoing, and nobody has yet been acquitted,” he said in comments carried by Australian Associated Press news agency.

“I’m looking forward to the day when the court declares all of us innocent of the charges. Then the party will really begin.”

– ‘Able to join families’ –

Despite being wary of what might happen next, Greste said he was thrilled that Fahmy and Mohamed were free and able to reunite with their families.

“One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was to walk out of prison and leave them behind, so it is wonderful to know that they’re at last able to join their families as I did just over a week ago,” he said.

The initial trial came against the backdrop of strained ties between Egypt and Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based, but relations have warmed in recent months.

The journalists were among 20 defendants, 12 of whom were Egyptians found guilty of belonging to a “terrorist organisation”.

Two defendants were acquitted, while the other three — also foreigners — were convicted in absentia.

Fahmy and Mohamed must appear in court again on February 23, after a court said last month there was unsufficient evidence to support their conviction and ordered a retrial.

The case has been a major embarrassment for Sisi as he seeks to shore up international support following a widely condemned crackdown on the opposition.

Fahmy, previously a dual national, renounced his Egyptian citizenship in a bid to be deported.

He was made to pay 250,000 Egyptian pounds ($33,000/28,950 euros) bail, as Canada welcomed his release but denounced the retrial.

“The prospect of Mr Fahmy standing retrial is unacceptable,” said Canadian Consular Affairs Minister Lynee Yelich.

The wife of Mohamed, who has no other nationality and so cannot benefit from the new law, said his family were “paying the price for being Egyptian”.

Jihan Rashid broke out in tears when her husband’s release was ordered Thursday.

“Half of the nightmare is over. Now I am waiting for his acquittal,” she said.

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