Fri, Sep 25, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Al-Sisi pardons two al-Jazeera journalists

AP, CAIRO

Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, second left, and Baher Mohammed, second right, celebrate with their wives Marwa, left, and Jihan, right, on Wednesday in the Cairo suburb of Maadi following their release from prison after being pardoned by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

Photo: AFP

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi late on Wednesday pardoned and released two al-Jazeera English journalists, ending a case that was widely condemned by human rights groups and had raised questions about Egypt’s commitment to democracy and free speech.

The move to free Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed came days before al-Sissi’s appearance at the UN General Assembly, as well as on the eve of a major Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha.

Also receiving presidential pardons were 100 people, including dozens of human rights activists. Most of them were convicted and imprisoned for breaking a disputed law enacted in 2013 that prohibits unapproved demonstrations. The measure has almost entirely ended street activism in Egypt.

Fahmy and Mohammed were arrested in December 2013 and sentenced to three years in prison in a retrial last month for airing what a court described as “false news” and coverage biased in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Since the 2013 military overthrow of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, hundreds of his supporters have been killed in clashes with security forces and thousands were detained, including almost the entire leadership of his group, the now-outlawed Brotherhood.

The two journalists were released hours after the pardon was announced, and dropped off by police in a Cairo suburb.

“We have not digested the fact that we are free, we don’t have to worry about anything else,” said Fahmy, who joined al-Jazeera just months before his arrest. “Our families have suffered so much since the beginning of this trial, and we’re very happy that el-Sissi took this action and released us.”

Fahmy’s lawyer, British barrister Amal Clooney, said that she was “delighted’” by the pardon.

Al-Jazeera also said it was happy for its employees.

“It is hard to celebrate, though, as this whole episode should not have happened in the first place,” the broadcaster said in a statement.

The long-running trial of the al-Jazeera staff was entangled from the start with the wider political enmity between Egypt and Qatar, where the broadcaster is based, following Morsi’s ouster. Egypt maintains that Qatar is fueling unrest in Egypt through its support to Islamists, including the Brotherhood.

Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency said a third person in the al-Jazeera case — which included other defendants along with Australian journalist Peter Greste — was also pardoned but was not identified by name.

Greste said his conviction still stood and there was ambiguity around whether it would remain.

“It does still stand. It’s a relatively minor thing compared to what we really wanted to do and that’s to make sure that Fahmy and Baher were freed and that their ordeal, at least after almost two years of constant struggle and suffering, is really genuinely over,” Greste told Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) yesterday in Canberra.

Greste’s reaction to word of his colleagues’ freedom was captured on camera, as he was filming a game show for the ABC when the news broke. His jaw dropped when the show’s host handed him a telephone, from which he read that Fahmy had been pardoned.

Clearly overwhelmed, he struggled to speak.

“I’m sorry, I’m feeling really emotional,” he said. “I mean, we’ve been fighting for the past eight months for this, and I mean ... Christ, I’m sorry.”

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