Jailed Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste have reached the final stages in their applications for deportation, according to their families.
Australian correspondent Greste and Candian-Egyptian Cairo bureau chief Fahmy are currently serving seven years in maximum-security prison. In June, they were convicted on charges of “aiding a terrorist organization” and “spreading false news.”
In the same case, Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer for Al Jazeera, received seven years plus another three years on accusations of possessing a bullet.
“We have submitted the deportation application and the Fahmy family met with senior government officials, who confirmed the process is in its final stages,” said a statement issued by Fahmy’s family.
“The Canadian government is following up with the Egyptians here, and hopefully Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird’s visit next week can expedite the process. We were told it will happen sooner than later, and before the retrial commences,” the statement continued.
Last November, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a decree facilitating the transfer of foreign detainees and defendants to their home countries, provided they are granted the general prosecutor’s authorization and clearance from the Cabinet. The decree sparked hope that both Greste and Fahmy might be allowed to return home.
On Tuesday, Greste’s family said the presidential decree has been invoked.
“We are now waiting for respective governments to meet, discuss and negotiate possible deportation,” they posted on Greste’s official Twitter account.
While following the verdict and the international outcry that it provoked, Sisi maintained that he would not interfere in judicial rulings. He later gave statements acknowledging that “the sentencing of several journalists had a very negative effect, and we had nothing to do with it.” He added that he wished the journalists had been deported after their arrest, rather than put on trial.
According to Marwa Omara, Fahmy’s fiancée, both defendants applied for deportation two weeks ago, and “it can happen at any given stage, not necessarily at the end of the retrial.”
Last week, the Court of Cassation accepted the defendants’ appeal and ordered a retrial for the three men.
While Omara laments that the judge denied the defense team’s request to release them on bail, she still remains hopeful that the deportation request will be implemented as soon as possible.
“The application for deportation is in our best interest, because Mohamed’s health is deteriorating and he needs to continue treatment in Canada,” she told Mada Masr, referring to an injury Fahmy sustained to his shoulder prior to his arrest, as well as his Hepatitis C condition.
Omara said that they had applied for Fahmy’s release on the grounds of poor health through the Journalists Syndicate, but that request is still on hold.
Fahmy’s lawyer, Amal Clooney, filed a request with the president’s office for Fahmy to be transferred to Canada in accordance with Sisi’s decree, Omara added.
Meanwhile, defense lawyer Amr al-Deeb said that he was not informed that the presidential decree had been invoked.
While he confirmed that a request for deportation was filed, he said its approval depends on “several criteria, such as whether it serves the greater interest.”
Deeb said that there is no way to tell how long the process will take, “since there’s no precedent for this,” he told Mada Masr.
On Tuesday, the New York Times published an op-ed by Fahmy, where he maintains that he and his colleagues were doing their job, and became “pawns in a geopolitical game that had nothing to do with our work as impartial professionals.”
He refers to his request for deportation, writing, “The questions haunt us: How might the laid-back citizens of Canada and Australia perceive these warring parties as they settle scores in legal no-man’s-lands at opposite ends of the globe? Is Mr. Sisi using us to continue to smear Al Jazeera as a propaganda machine for Qatar? Is Qatar exploiting our case to damage Egypt’s reputation on human rights? As long as we’re still in jail, we remain pawns.”