Release of Al Jazeera staff welcomed internationally

As journalists freed from prison, network calls on Egypt to drop convictions against seven others tried in absentia.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s decision to pardon two imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists has been welcomed by rights groups, diplomats, and the network itself. 

Al Jazeera staff sentenced to jail in Egypt

In a statement released shortly after Wednesday’s decision to free Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, Al Jazeera’s director general Mostefa Souag said the network was “delighted” with the decision.

“We’re delighted for them both and their families. It is hard to celebrate though as this whole episode should not have happened in the first place. They’ve lost nearly two years of their lives when they were guilty of nothing except journalism,” Souag said.

He added the network would continue to call on Egyptian authorities to drop convictions against seven of its journalists tried in absentia, including Australian reporter Peter Greste, who was arrested alongside Fahmy and Mohamed.

“The case for seven journalists convicted in absentia continues…we urge the Egyptian authorities to quash their cases and let them too get on with their lives.”

The demand to overturn the convictions made in absentia was repeated by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who asked the Egyptian government to pardon Greste and his colleagues.

“I want Peter … to know that the Australian government continues to support you and your colleagues and we will continue to press the government of Egypt to pardon you and the other journalists with whom you worked,” Turnbull said, according to the UK-based Guardian newspaper .

Canadian Foreign Minister Lynne Yelich said she was “pleased ” dual-Canadian and Egyptian national, Fahmy, had been pardoned and said her government would be helping him to leave Egypt.

“Canada has consistently called at the highest level for Mr Fahmy’s release and return to Canada…the Government of Canada will continue to provide Mr Fahmy with consular assistance and will assist in facilitating his departure from Egypt,” Yelich said.

‘Still in shock’

Speaking to Al Jazeera, freed journalist Baher Mohamed said he would continue fighting to free other journalists still held in Egyptian prisons.

“My kids are telling me ‘no more of this bad work’…they were so upset and it was so hard to convince them to leave prison (during visits),” Mohamed said.

“This is the fight of every single professional journalist, we should stand strong…I want to take advantage of this situation to say we have other colleagues still behind bars.

“They are still going through the same ordeal, their families are suffering and they are suffering, the fight is not over.” 

These pardons will be little more than an empty gesture if they are not followed up by further releases of those arbitrarily detained

by Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International

Token gesture

Human rights group Amnesty International said it welcomed the release of 100 activists and the journalists but called the move little more than a “token gesture”.

“While these pardons come as a great relief, it is ludicrous that some of these people were ever behind bars in the first place. Hundreds remain behind bars for protesting or because of their journalistic work,” said Amnesty’s Said Boumedouha.

“Those pardoned today include only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of people across the country who have been arbitrarily arrested, and unlawfully detained….”

On August 29, a court in Cairo sentenced Canadian Fahmy and Egyptian Mohamed, along with Greste, to three years in jail after finding them guilty of “aiding a terrorist organisation”.

Greste was released in February and repatriated to Australia but his court case continued in absentia.

Mohamed was sentenced to an additional six months for possession of a spent bullet casing.

The journalists had been initially found guilty in June 2014 of aiding a “terrorist organisation”, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed in Egypt after the army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

At that hearing, another six Al Jazeera journalists were tried in absentia on the same charges and were sentenced to 10 years’ jail. 

Source: Al Jazeera