Middle East

Egypt urged to free al-Jazeera staff on arrest anniversary

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Media captionRelatives say they are hopeful the three will be freed

The parents of one of the three al-Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt are optimistic they will soon be released.

Speaking to the BBC on the first anniversary of their arrest, Peter Greste's father said he was confident their convictions would be overturned.

Mr Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in June for spreading false news to help a terrorist group.

Later this week, a court will decide whether they have grounds for appeal.

The journalists strenuously deny collaborating with the banned Muslim Brotherhood after the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi by the military last year. They say they were jailed simply for reporting the news.

'Flaws and controversy'

Colleagues and friends of Mr Greste, an Australian former BBC correspondent, Mr Fahmy, al-Jazeera English's Canadian-Egyptian Cairo bureau chief, and Mr Mohamed, an Egyptian producer, marked the anniversary of their arrest at newsrooms across the world on Monday.

Screens at al-Jazeera's studios urged Egypt to "Free them now", while journalists posted photos of themselves holding up banners bearing the Twitter hashtags "#FreeAJStaff" and "#JournalismIsNotACrime".

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Image caption Journalists demanded the release of their colleagues at a protest outside the Egyptian embassy in London
Image copyright AL-JAZEERA
Image caption Al-Jazeera urged people to show support for the three men, stressing: "Journalism is not a crime"

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Greste's father Juris said he was optimistic that the New Year would see a "major turning-point".

"The first trial was full of flaws and controversy," he said.

"We believe that the only decision that the Court of Cassation can make is to overturn the original verdict. Therein will be Egypt's opportunity to demonstrate the integrity and independence of its appeals system."

The court will on Thursday begin examining whether the proper legal procedures were followed in the case of the journalists and four Egyptian students who were convicted alongside them.

It could either uphold the guilty verdict given by the court which tried them earlier this year or quash it, in which case a retrial would be ordered.


Mr Fahmy's fiancee, Marwa Omara, told the BBC that she was concerned about the length and uncertainty of the appeal process.

The Court of Cassation's judges meet for a week every month, but there is no timeframe for a decision. Ms Omara said it might take up to a year to be resolved, one way or the other.

Mr Fahmy's lawyers have called on him to be released on medical grounds while the case continues. They say he had surgery in mid-November on his right arm, which he broke days before his arrest, and has not received adequate treatment for his Hepatitis C.

Image caption The three jailed al-Jazeera journalists: Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she had received mixed signals from the Egyptian government about the case.

"We had indications that Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi would exercise his authority regarding a pardon or a clemency plea in advance of the appeal," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"Yet, in the meantime, the Egyptian foreign minister has said to me that we have to await the appeal, so there are different messages coming from the Egyptian government."

Last month, Mr Sisi said he would consider pardoning the journalists after approving new legislation that would allow the authorities to transfer foreign nationals to their home countries to face trial or serve their sentences in cases of "the highest interest of the state".

Hopes for the journalists' release have also been boosted by improved relations between Egypt and Qatar, which owns al-Jazeera.

In recent months, Qatar has expelled several senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders whom it was hosting.

And last week, al-Jazeera suspended broadcasts by its Egyptian affiliate, Mubasher Misr, which Cairo had accused of serving as the mouthpiece for the Brotherhood and its supporters.

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