Jailed Al Jazeera journalists granted January appeal hearing

Kamahl Santamaria/Twitter

An Egyptian court has agreed to hear an appeal in the case of three Al Jazeera journalists held in a Cairo jail there who have been convicted of spreading false news, according to the Doha-based broadcaster.

Al Jazeera Media Network said the appeal is scheduled for Jan. 1 – slightly more than one year after the men were taken into custody.

Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were arrested in December 2013 and sentenced to jail terms in June on charges of spreading false news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, a now-banned organization in Egypt.

The verdict was condemned across the world as an attack on media freedoms.

In an interview with Doha News today, Mostefa Souag, Al Jazeera’s acting director general, said:

“They haven’t committed any crime. Their only crime is doing their job properly, and that’s reason for praise, not punishment.”

Lack of evidence

Souag said the network had hoped the Egyptian government would simply free the men and dismiss the case, but Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi reportedly ruled out that possibility this week, saying that he couldn’t interfere with the independence of the judiciary by granting clemency to jailed journalists.

Al Jazeera Turk/Twitter

Souag said he believed the conviction was politically motivated, arguing that “no serious, independent court would sentence people in this case.”

He added that the appeal would highlight the lack of evidence presented in court to support the charges.

Some observers have mocked Egyptian prosecutors for presenting footage filmed in Somalia as well as photos of Greste’s parents on vacation in Latvia as evidence without any explanation as to how it connects to the case.

“There was not a shred of evidence showing these people are guilty of these accusations … There was nothing really to show or even indicate the possibility of any violations,” Souag said.

He added:

“We are happy that the appeal was accepted, but we would be much more happier if they were released. And we are looking forward to that day … it will be a good way for the Egyptian authorities to start fresh and show the world that now that they are feeling a little bit more comfortable (in power) they can actually get back to the right way of building democracy.”

Relations between Qatar and Egypt have been frayed ever since el-Sisi’s backers ousted the previous Muslim Brotherhood government, which had enjoyed strong support from Doha.

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