Hopes build for AJ journalists’ freedom as verdict approaches
Following the release of a colleague on hunger strike, hopes are tentatively building that three Al Jazeera journalists still imprisoned in Eygpt will be freed when a verdict on their case is delivered on Monday, June 23.
Australian journalist Peter Greste of Al Jazeera English, and his colleagues Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy, have been in Tora prison since they were arrested in their Cairo hotel room on December 29.
They stand accused of defaming Egypt for their coverage of the ongoing conflict there, and for affiliating with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has now been branded a terrorist group. The trio have denied all allegations against them.
Their Al Jazeera Arabic colleague Abdullah Elshamy was freed from Cairo’s Scorpion prison on Tuesday, 307 days after being arrested without charge on August, 14, 2013, while covering the dispersal of Rabaa Aladaweya sit-in in the city.
He began a hunger strike protest in January and Egypt’s Prosecutor General released the 26-year-old journalist on “medical health” grounds on Tuesday of last week.
As he was greeted by jubilant crowds, he called for the release of his AJE colleagues.
— Abdullah Elshamy (@abdallahelshamy) June 19, 2014
The plight of the journalists has been followed closely by the world’s media and they have received huge support from tens of thousands of followers on Twitter.
A press conference in support of the men is taking place in London today, headed by Terry Waite, a former envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was captured and held hostage in Lebanon for four years until he was freed in 1991, and BBC journalist Alan Johnston who was kidnapped by militants in Gaza in 2007.
Public figures across the world have publicized the men’s cause by posting photographs of themselves with their mouths’ taped and carrying a card with the hashtag #FreeAJStaff.
Greste’s family has sent messages of thanks to supporters ahead of Monday’s verdict.
— Andrew Greste (@AndyroosteG) June 20, 2014
The journalists’trial has met with international condemnation and a fear of tightening media restrictions in Egypt.
Legal proceedings have been going on since February 20, and have been beset by delays and at least 10 adjournments.
Through the majority of hearings, the accused have been locked in a metal cage.
Fahmy, who has been allowed out of prison to receive medical treatment for a shoulder injury, is reported by Al Jazeera to have celebrated Elshamy’s release, saying: “We are very confident we are going to be next.”
Outside court, Greste’s brother Mike told Australian broadcaster ABC News he was relieved that a date for the verdict had been set. While he hoped for a positive outcome, he added:
“The prospects don’t bear too much thought … because, quite frankly, the worst case scenario is terrifying.”
Earlier this week, Greste’s mother Lois, father Juris, and brother Andrew spoke of the psychological toll the process has taken on him in a Brisbane press conference.
Andrew Greste said that he thought what was helping his brother through the ordeal was the belief that he was fighting for the press freedom.
He was quoted in The Guardian newspaper telling reporters: “We’ve got to be hopeful, for Peter’s sake. We can’t give up on him.”
Lois Greste, who said neither she nor her husband were flying to Egypt for the verdict, added: “Of course we’re anxious as well. Glad it’s next Monday, it means we’re nearing the end.”
In a statement, Al Jazeera said:
“The world knows more than ever that our journalists have no case to answer and are completely innocent.
“We hope this case wraps up very soon with Peter, (producer) Baher [Mohamed] and Mohamed [Fahmy] back with their families and doing the important jobs that they have always carried out with the utmost of integrity.”