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Egypt court again postpones verdict in Jazeera retrial

August 2, 2015

An Egyptian court Sunday postponed for a second time its verdict in the retrial of three Al-Jazeera journalists, rescheduling it to August 29 in a move that sparked widespread criticism.

The court had already put off its much anticipated verdict last Thursday because the presiding judge Hassan Farid was reportedly ill.

Another judge on Sunday said the verdict was again delayed because other defendants in the trial could not be brought to the court from their cells.

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

Fahmy and Greste received seven-year prison terms in the original trial, while producer Mohamed was jailed for 10 years.

While Greste has since been deported, Fahmy, Baher and several other defendants were released on bail at the start of the retrial. But at least three other defendants have been jailed in separate cases.

“Verdict postponed until August 29th. The audacity & continuous disrespect to our rights is unprecedented!” Fahmy tweeted after Sunday’s postponement.

Defence lawyer Shaaban Said said there was no political reason for postponing the verdict.

“The (presiding) judge is ill and he cannot come. Legally the verdict cannot be delivered by a new judge,” he said.

Al-Jazeera expressed frustration at the delay.

“It’s a long-running saga, it just seems to keep going on and on and on,” Giles Trendle, Al-Jazeera English managing director told AFP. The three all worked for the English channel.

“We are exasperated, frustrated. We just want justice to be done and justice keeps getting delayed. Justice delayed is not justice done.”

Producer Mohamed said the postponement was yet another insult to the three.

“It’s really annoying that my life is still on hold… It will be another month of suffering,” he told reporters.

“I fear a guilty verdict.”

The case has deeply embarrassed President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has said he wishes the reporters had never gone on trial.

– ‘Sisi must intervene’ –

“If the judges fail to acquit, President Sisi must promptly intervene to rectify this injustice,” Fahmy’s lawyer Amal Clooney said in a statement Sunday.

“He rejected calls to intervene while the retrial was pending, but it will be over when the verdict is announced.”

Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders also criticised the delay.

“This latest of many postponements just increases the tension surrounding the Al-Jazeera trial and prolongs the agony for the station’s three journalists,” it said.

“It also defies the entire world, which is awaiting the outcome of the trial with such interest.”

A guilty verdict may further embarrass the government as it resumes close ties with Washington after a diplomatic rift in 2013.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry launched strategic talks in Cairo to repair ties.

The Al-Jazeera case further strained Egypt’s ties with Western countries which had condemned a deadly crackdown on Morsi’s supporters.

An appeals court ordered a retrial, saying the original judgment lacked evidence.

The trial came during a diplomatic spat between Egypt and Qatar, which supports the Muslim Brotherhood.

If convicted, the journalists can appeal to the Court of Cassation.

Fahmy has renounced his Egyptian nationality, hoping for deportation like Greste.

The three journalists, arrested in December 2013 during the crackdown on Morsi’s supporters, 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.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 18 journalists are locked up in Egypt.

On Sunday, Shoukry was asked at a joint news conference with Kerry about jailed journalists.

“None of these journalists are held… in relation with their profession as journalists,” he replied. They are detained because of their “implication in terrorist activities”.

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