Monday marked a year in jail for the Al Jazeera staff convicted of “aiding a terrorist organization” in June. The detained journalists include Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, Al Jazeera Cairo’s bureau chief; Australian Peter Greste, an award-winning journalist who was Al Jazeera English’s Kenya correspondent and formerly worked for the BBC; as well as Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer for Al Jazeera.
The case sparked international controversy drawing criticism from both governments and rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In the long drawn-out trial there were many inconsistencies and odd pieces of evidence – including a pop song.
Below is a timeline of the trial and some of the controversies it engendered.
29 December: Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fawzy, a cameraman, are arrested on suspicion of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The Interior Ministry releases a statement claiming that the four Al Jazeera staffers used rooms in the Marriott Hotel to meet with other Muslim Brotherhood members and “broadcast news that harms national security as well as spread false information for Al Jazeera without the approval of relevant authorities.”
Fawzy is later released but Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed remain in detention.
9 January: The three journalists are sentenced to 15 more days in detention in Tora prison pending investigation into the charges that they are Brotherhood members.
13 January: More than 40 editors and correspondents from over 30 international news outlets call for the release of the Al Jazeera staff members.
29 January: State Security prosecutors refer 20 Al Jazeera staff members including Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed to criminal court. The prosecution refers to the defendants as the “Marriott Cell” as they rented rooms at the Marriott, allegedly the center of their operations. This name becomes widespread in local media. The prosecution accuses the defendants of creating and spreading media footage that was “contrary to reality” and in the interests of the Brotherhood.
2 February: Privately owned Al-Tahrir channel releases a 22-minute video showing the initial arrest and interrogation of Fahmy and Greste. The video is set to dramatic music and shows the police questioning Fahmy along with footage of the staffers’ laptops, external hard drives and notebooks. The video’s release sparked both outrage and ridicule on social media.
20 February: The “Marriott Cell” case is adjourned until March 5. The 20 defendants include Alaa Bayoumi, Anas Abdel Wahab, Khalil Ali, Ahmed Abdo Fath al-Bab, Baher Mohamed Ghorab, Mohamed Fawzi Ibrahim, Saeed Abdel Hafeez, Nora Hassan al-Banna, Ahmed Abdallah Attia, Khaled Abdel Rahman Mahmoud, Soheib Saad, Khaled Mohamed Abdel Raouf, Shadi Abdel Hameed, Ahmed Abdel Hameed and Anas Mohamed al-Beltagi all of whom face the charges of joining an illegal group.
5 March: During their court appearance a number of the defendants allege they were abused at the hands of police and prison guards. Family members complained of poor prison conditions. Fahmy appears in court with his arm in a sling and alleges that is was broken by police officers two weeks before his court appearance; his family say that he was not receiving adequate medical attention while detained.
Of the 20 defendants, 12 are tried in absentia while eight appear in court. The trial is then scheduled to reconvene on March 24.
24 March: The trial is adjourned until March 31 after a long session where the judge focuses on questions about the journalists’ equipment. The case is later adjourned until April 10.
10 April: The case is adjourned again, until April 22. Sarah Mohamed, a friend of the detained defendants, Khaled Abdel Rahman, Sahdi Abdel Hameed and Ana al-Beltagy, reports to Mada Masr that three defendants were not affiliated with Al Jazeera at all, and were arrested because a police officer disliked them.
22 April: The case is adjourned until May 2 and the Cairo Criminal Court denies the defendants request for bail. During the court session the court reviews video evidence including footage of a report Al Jazeera did on sheep farming in Egypt. Halfway through the court session the judge orders all journalists present to leave.
2 May: The case is adjourned until May 15. The court again denies bail to the detained Al Jazeera staffers. The hearing takes place on World Press Freedom Day, compounding international attention and controversy. Reportedly, as they leave the court cage and are being escorted back to their cells, some of the defendants shouted “Happy World Press Freedom Day.”
15 May: Three of the lawyers for the defendants quit in protest to the way Al Jazeera has been representing the case and the demands put on them by the prosecution. The prosecution demands that the defense pay LE1.2 million to view the video evidence against their clients. Bail is again denied to the defendants and the next court session set for May 22.
22 May: During their 9th court session the prosecution shows videos taken from the Al Jazeera staffers mobiles as part of their evidence. This includes a video of the pop song “Somebody Who I Used to Know” by the Australian singer-songwriter Gotye. Greste shouts to reporters from the court cage that the trial shows “unbelievable inefficiencies.”
1 June: During the 10th court session the prosecution’s witnesses give statements that contradict their written testimony. The prosecution’s case is heavily based on this testimony, which was provided by a committee of technical experts and alleged that the Al Jazeera staffers’ work endangered national security – a statement they then contradict in court. Furthermore, state TV technicians claimed that the prosecution illegally edited the video footage shown in trial. The case is adjourned until June 5.
5 June: The prosecution demands the maximum penalty of 15 to 25 years in jail for the Al Jazeera staffers.
23 June: Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed receive seven to 10 years in jail on charges of aiding a “terrorist organization” – all three deny the charges. Eleven other Al Jazeera staffers who were tried in absentia also received 10 years’ jail-time. The sentence causes international outrage.
“The natural repercussion of this verdict for any independent media or journalist is that doing your job is dangerous,” says Mohamed Lofty, the executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, who monitored the trial for Amnesty International.
24 June: The White House releases a statement calling on the Egyptian government to “grant clemency” to the Al Jazeera journalists. However, hours later, President Abdel Fattah Sisi states that he would “not interfere with judicial rulings.”
7 July: Sisi explains to several newspapers chief editors that it would have been better if the journalists were deported rather than tried, as the resulting case negatively impacted Egypt’s image. However, he adds that he had no control over the judiciary and had to respect its independence.
23 July: The court that jailed the journalists releases a statement explaining the verdict and alleging “the devil guided them [the journalists] to use journalism and direct it toward activities against this nation.”
25 July: Greste’s brother, Michael Greste, announces that Greste has launched an appeal against the verdict. Michael Greste stated that appeal is in the final stages of being registered with Egypt’s Court of Cassation.
26 September: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and United States President Barack Obama personally raise issue of Peter Greste’s release with Sisi during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Both leaders meet one-on-one with Sisi and, according to a report by The Guardian, Obama advocates for the all of the imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists’ release.
13 November: Sisi issues a decree allowing for the deportation of foreign detainees to their home countries, sparking hope for Peter Greste’s release to Australia. However, the decree does not include Egyptian citizens with dual nationalities – meaning that half-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy will remain in prison.
20 November: Sisi states in an interview with French channel France 24 that he may pardon the Al Jazeera journalists. The president says, “Let us say that this matter is being discussed to solve the issue,” in response to a question on whether or not he could pardon the journalists.
29 December: International protests in front of Egyptian embassies mark the one-year anniversary of the Al Jazeera journalists’ detention in prison.
1 January: The Court of Cassation orders the retrial of the Al Jazeera journalists, but refuses to release them on bail.
1 February: Greste is released and deported to Australia, in accordance with the new decree allowing for the deportation of foreign detainees to their home countries.
3 February: Canadian-Egyptian Fahmy renounces his Egyptian citizenship, in a bid to follow Greste and secure his release and deportation.
12 February: Mohamed, Fahmy and students tried in the case, are released after the first session of their retrial. Fahmy, now tried as a Canadian citizen, is ordered to pay LE250,000 in bail.
2 August: Retrial verdict postponed to August 29.
29 August: The Cairo Criminal Court sentences Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed to three years in a maximum security prison. Mohamed is sentenced to an additional six months in prison and a LE5,000 fine.