Two Al Jazeera journalists jailed for 407 days in Egypt are due to begin a new trial on February 12.
In June 2014, Al Jazeera English’s Cairo Bureau Chief Mohamed Fahmy, correspondent Peter Greste and producer Baher Mohamed were sentenced to seven years for “aiding a terrorist organization” by spreading false news. Mohamed was sentenced to an additional three years for possessing a bullet.
Greste, an Australian citizen, was deported to Australia, under a law that allows foreign nationals accused of crimes or sentenced to imprisonment to be deported to their native countries. Greste is now free in Australia.
Fahmy, a dual national, gave up his citizenship in order to qualify for deportation, but remains in prison.
According to Fahmy’s family, renouncing his Egyptian citizenship was “one of the most difficult decisions he has ever taken” and it left him “completely demoralized.”
“The trial date on Feb 12 represents our worst nightmare, to have to go through another circus of a retrial,” the Fahmy family said in a statement.
“The general prosecutor is complicating matters, even though both the presidency and the prime minister have expressed their desire to let him go as soon as possible,” the family added.
Fahmy’s family have also criticized what they describe as “the Canadian government’s conservative approach in the handling of the case,” adding that they are “shocked” Canada’s prime minister has not intervened to expedite matters, while his Australian counterpart “has done an outstanding job in the release of his colleague Peter Greste.”
It is unclear whether Fahmy could be deported once the retrial begins, explained his lawyer Negad al-Borai.
The law allowing foreigners to be retried was only issued in November 2014, and its details have not yet been tested, said Borai. “If the trial starts, I think the president has no right to take him from the court and send him back.”
Borai said he still hopes Fahmy will be released before the trial begins. “We still have tomorrow, and Tuesday and Wednesday. He could be taken out of jail at any time.”
For Baher Mohamed, who is not eligible for deportation as an Egyptian national with no other citizenship, the retrial date comes as good news.
“I am very optimistic,” said Mohamed’s lawyer Mostafa Nagy.
Nagy told Mada Masr that the retrial will represent a fresh start for the defendants. It will be as if the previous trial didn’t happen.
All evidence presented in the previous trial will be presented again, with no new evidence added or anything pulled, Nagy added.
The new trial will be held in a different court and before a different judge than the original trial, clarified Borai.
Nagy Shehata, the judge who convicted and sentenced the defendants in the original trial has become notorious for his harsh sentences. His verdicts include sentencing 188 to death over violence in Kerdasa, and giving life in prison to activist Ahmed Douma and 229 other defendants in a case linked to clashes between protestors and security forces in December 2011.
The previous trial was marked by contradictory testimony from witnesses for the prosecution, as well as bizarre and seemingly random evidence, including footage of a news package on horse welfare, footage from Kenya and a documentary produced by Greste about Somalia.
“A retrial at any time under any circumstances will never find him guilty,” Borai commented.
Although the retrial will begin on Thursday, Nagy says it is impossible to predict how long the process will take, given that the case involves multiple defendants and multiple lawyers.
Including Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed, a total of 20 were charged in the case, only nine of whom Al Jazeera says actually worked for the network. Of the 20 people charged, 11 were sentenced in absentia.
All of those who participated in the original trial will be part of the new trial, Borai said. Those who were tried in absentia will not have the opportunity to contest their sentences unless they return to Egypt to face the court.