A Berlin court has ruled against extraditing senior Al Jazeera journalist Ahmed Mansour to Egypt and ordered his release from custody, the Doha-based satellite channel reported Monday afternoon.
Mansour was arrested in the Berlin Tegel airport on Saturday at the request of Egyptian authorities as he attempted to fly back to Qatar.
In October 2014, an Egyptian criminal court sentenced the Egyptian-British journalist in absentia to 15 years in prison on charges of torturing a lawyer during the January 25, 2011 revolution.
Shortly after his Saturday arrest, Mansour, 52, posted a video recorded from prison to his official Facebook page accusing the authorities there of detaining him without legal grounds. He further accused the German government of being a “tool in the hands of Egypt’s coup regime.”
His arrest elicited widespread condemnation from across the globe, while raising urgent questions regarding the limits of press freedoms in Germany and the nature of Egypt-Germany relations. Critics drew connections between Mansour’s arrest and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s visit to Berlin in early June.
High-profile British journalist Robert Fisk was quick to shame Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration for Mansour’s detention in an article in the London-based newspaper The Independent.
“It isn’t good enough for Mansour and his lawyers and Al Jazeera itself to demand his freedom. Merkel herself is going to have to provide an explanation,” Fisk wrote.
“It was bad enough for her to have staged a grindingly embarrassing meeting two weeks ago with [Sisi], whose own election victory was achieved with 96.1 percent of the vote,” he continued, “a figure which — please excuse me for saying so — even Adolf Hitler might have envied. True, Sisi signed an 8 billion euro deal with Siemens — but is that the price of a reporter’s freedom?”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also condemned Mansour’s arrest, accusing Germany of double standards.
“EU countries left us alone in fighting terrorism, but the same countries also allowed terrorists into their lands without inspection. Unfortunately, these countries also cooperate with the coup regime,” Erdogan argued in a speech that was posted to YouTube, whose date and location Mada Masr was unable to verify at the time of publishing this story. He went on to accuse Germany of declining to arrest members of certain “terrorist organizations,” despite sufficient evidence, under the pretext of freedom of expression, without respecting the same standards for the Al Jazeera staffer.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) further lambasted the arrest, decrying it as a part of a “politically motivated campaign.”
“Egyptian authorities should stop pursuing Ahmed Mansour and his Al Jazeera colleagues. Mansour should be released immediately,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa coordinator.
The German government is also facing domestic pressure to release Mansour from detention and to take steps to prevent his extradition.
Voker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), contended that Egypt must present strong and compelling evidence against Mansour before Germany can get involved.
“Let Egypt authorities prove they have enough evidence against Ahmad Mansour for a prosecution in Germany. If not, our apologies to Mr Mansour,” Perthes tweeted.
Jannis Grimm, an assistant researcher on Egypt at SWP-Berlin, believes that Mansour’s arrest was most likely a formal procedure without any political motivation. Speaking to Mada Masr prior to news of Mansour’s release, Grimm said that the fact that the German authorities swiftly complied with Egypt’s request to detain the journalist without Interpol first issuing a similar directive was a move he is still “struggling to understand.”
It would set a “dangerous precedent” if Mansour were extradited, Grimm said, adding that his arrest was “a PR disaster” for the Merkel administration.
Grimm pointed to a recent interview that Mansour conducted with SWP researcher Guido Steinberg prior to Sisi’s visit to Germany as a potential factor that compelled Cairo to pressure Berlin into taking action.
“The Egyptians reinforced their extradition demand during Mansour’s visit to Germany, and after his Al Jazeera interview with my colleague Guido Steinberg that specifically dealt with Egyptian-German relations. That would explain why police acted not when he entered, but when he left the county,” Grimm conjectured.
But the results of Monday’s extradition hearing will prove to be the true test of the Merkel administration’s stance on the matter. If approved, the German government still has the power to halt Mansour’s extradition based on “superior grounds,” Grimm explained.
“My take on the situation right now is that most probably the German judge will refer back to the Egyptian judiciary to provide substantial evidence to retry Mansour in Germany,” he concluded. “Extradition, I think, is out of the question.”