An Egyptian court will this week retry Al-Jazeera journalists, including a Canadian awaiting deportation, a judicial official said on Sunday, after his Australian colleague was deported.
Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, journalists with the Qatari-owned channel, were originally sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for allegedly aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood, along with Australia’s Peter Greste.
But an appeals court overturned that verdict in January and ordered a retrial, which the judicial official said is to begin on Thursday.
Greste was deported on February 1 under a presidential decree that allows the authorities to expel foreigners charged in Egypt and see them instead face trial in their home countries.
As a result, lawyers said the court was likely to drop proceedings against Greste after the opening session.
In a bid to secure his own deportation, Fahmy has renounced his Egyptian nationality and is awaiting a return to Canada, where he also has citizenship.
However, the third journalist, producer Mohamed, remains in jail as he only has Egyptian nationality.
The three employees of Al-Jazeera English were arrested in December 2013 and tried on allegations of supporting the Brotherhood.
In June last year Greste and Fahmy were jailed for seven years, while Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years in prison before the retrial was ordered.
The journalists’ initial trial came against the backdrop of strained relations between Egypt and Qatar, which supported the Islamist movement of president Mohamed Morsi, whom then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deposed in July 2013.
– ‘Worst nightmare’ –
Canada had said on Monday that the release of Fahmy was “imminent”, amid reports that it had a team of diplomats in Cairo pressing for his freedom, but he remains in Egyptian custody.
Fahmy’s counsel, the prominent lawyer Amal Clooney, on Saturday sent a letter to Sisi demanding a meeting to press for his release.
His family said in a statement on Sunday that a retrial would be “our worst nightmare, to have to go through another circus of a retrial.”
They said they were disappointed with what they called the Canadian government’s “conservative approach” in lobbying for his release and called on Prime Minister Stephan Harper to intervene.
Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed work for Al-Jazeera’s English channel, which operated separately from the Egyptian and pro-Muslim Brotherhood channel Al-Jazeera Mubashir Masr.
But the prosecution made no distinction between the channels during the trial.
Their arrest had sparked a global outcry and calls for their release led by Washington and the United Nations.
In November, Sisi enacted a decree that appeared tailored for Greste and Fahmy, but not Mohamed: foreigners on trial, or convicted in Egypt, could be deported to their home countries to stand trial or serve out their sentences.
Both Australia and Canada have made clear they will not place Greste and Fahmy on trial.
But the decree’s wording was aimed more at avoiding the impression in Egypt that the two had been released under international pressure.