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Al-Jazeera reporters await Egypt retrial verdict

July 30, 2015

An Egyptian court delivers its verdict Thursday in the retrial of three Al-Jazeera journalists whose previous sentencing to up to 10 years in jail sparked an international outcry.

Australia’s Peter Greste, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were sentenced last year for “spreading false news” in support of the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood during their coverage of the turmoil after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Greste and Fahmy received seven years, while Mohamed was jailed for 10 years in June 2014.

An appeals court ordered a retrial, saying the initial verdict lacked evidence against the three journalists working for the Doha-based network’s English channel.

“The entire world has its eyes turned on Egypt because this is a decisive trial for media freedom,” Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday.

If convicted, the journalists can appeal to Egypt’s Court of Cassation, which can uphold or cancel the ruling. If it cancels the verdict it will examine the case itself.

Greste has already been deported under a law allowing the transfer of foreigners on trial to their home countries but he is still being retried in absentia.

Fahmy and his Egyptian producer Mohamed are on bail ahead of the retrial after spending more than 400 days in detention.

“Trying to remain optimistic as the final verdict draws closer,” Greste wrote on his Twitter account.

Fahmy renounced his Egyptian nationality hoping he too would be deported like Greste.

“If this trial is fair, me and my colleagues have to be acquitted,” Fahmy told AFP on Wednesday, adding that a court committee had acknowledged that there had been “no fabrication” in their coverage.

– ‘Just doing my job’ –

“I have done nothing wrong. I was just doing my job,” producer Mohamed told AFP.

On Thursday, the court will also give its ruling on five Egyptian co-defendants sentenced previously to up to 10 years for being members of the Brotherhood and for “damaging the public image of Egypt”.

The three journalists were arrested in December 2013 during a crackdown on supporters of Morsi, who was ousted by then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after mass street protests against his sole year of divisive rule.

The initial trial came against the backdrop of strained ties between Egypt and Qatar, which supported Morsi’s government.

The journalists were also accused of working without valid media accreditation.

Fahmy has since lashed out at Al-Jazeera, accusing it of negligence and backing the Brotherhood. He has sued the network for $100 million.

Al-Jazeera has repeatedly denounced the trials as “political”.

The network’s Arabic-language channel had condemned Morsi’s removal and the subsequent police crackdown that left hundreds of people dead and thousands jailed.

Rights groups say journalists in Egypt are facing unprecedented threats from the regime installed by Sisi.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 18 journalists are locked up in Egypt, the most since it began keeping records in 1990.

“As long as there are journalists in jail, we can’t say that freedom of press is respected in Egypt,” producer Mohamed said.

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