Jailed Al Jazeera journalists seek deportation under new Egyptian law

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Marwa Omara (L), fiancee of imprisoned Al Jazeera English's Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohammed Fahmy, speaks to the press outside the High Court, downtown Cairo, Egypt on January 01, 2015. Anadolu/Mohamed Mahmoud

Published Friday, January 2, 2015

Three Al Jazeera journalists faced Friday the prospect of at least several more weeks in prison after Egypt's top court granted them a retrial in a case that sparked international uproar.

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

Greste's lawyer said he 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 fiancee Marwa Omara.

In the first trial, Greste and Fahmy each got seven years, and Mohammed 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," Greste's 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.

"The procedure is drawn out," Nagi said. "After the request is made at the prosecutor's office, it must be submitted to the council of ministers (cabinet) to be approved and then to the president of the republic to consider his expulsion."

Greste's family 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."

One Egyptian senior official told AFP that were Greste's application to succeed, "it would be the first such case" under the new law.

In a short hearing on Thursday, the Court of Cassation accepted requests by both the prosecution and defense 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.

"So that opens up a whole raft of new options for Peter and his family."

Mohammed's wife Jihan welcomed the retrial as a "small but positive step towards my husband being freed."

Al Jazeera called for the swift release of its employees.

Acting director general Mostafa Souag said they had been "unjustly imprisoned."

"Their arrest was political, the sentencing was political and their being kept in prison is, for us, political," he said, referring to the tense relations between Cairo and Doha, where Al Jazeera is based.

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

The reporters, who authorities say lacked proper accreditation, were sentenced in June for aiding the Brotherhood after the army ousted Islamist President Mohammed Mursi in 2013 when mass protests demanded an end to the one year Islamist rule.

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 Mursi, accusing Doha of backing his Muslim Brotherhood party after his overthrow in July 2013.

On Monday 22, Qatar's Al-Jazeera network "temporarily" closed its Egypt-dedicated channel, accused of bias towards the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr has "temporarily ceased broadcasting until such time as necessary permits are issued for its return to Cairo in coordination with the Egyptian authorities," the Doha-based network said on its website.

However, the live channel will not return in its Egypt-specific identity as it will be merged with another live station to form Al Jazeera Mubasher al-Amma (General), the network said.

The pan-Arab news broadcaster has been strongly criticized in Egypt over coverage seen as favorable to the Muslim Brotherhood.

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

Eleven other defendants, tried in absentia, including one Dutch and two British journalists, had been sentenced to 10 years.

They would be retried only if they surrendered to the authorities.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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