In a move that has left many surprised and relieved, two Al-Jazeera journalists first arrested in December 2013 have finally been released and pardoned by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian national Baher Mohammed were among 100 prisoners, including dozens of human rights activists, who received pardons on the eve of the Muslim Eid Al-Adha celebrations.
The latest development marks an end to a case that had put a spotlight on the curtailing of press freedoms under President Al-Sisi’s administration as he continues to battle Islamic terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula as well as remnants of the deposed -and now outtlawed -Muslim Brotherhood party.
Fahmy and Mohamed were arrested, along with colleague Peter Greste, a Peabody Award winner and former reporter for the BBC, in December 2013 on what many believe were politically motivated, trumped up charges of aiding terrorist actions and being associates of the Muslim Brotherhood. Greste had been in Egypt only a fortnight when he was arrested along with his two Al-Jazeera English colleagues, as well as several students.
In January this year, Egypt’s top court ordered retrials for the three journalists after prosecutors acknowledged major discrepancies in the original verdict, which had found them guilty of spreading false news. Greste was subsequently released/deported from the country while both Fahmy and Mohamed waited for the result of their re-trial. That came at the end of August, when Fahmy and Mohamed were somewhat shockingly sent back to jail. Amal Clooney, one of Fahmy’s lawyers, had called that decision as “sending a dangerous message” about Egypt’s respect for the rule of law.
Speaking to AP on his release today, Fahmy said, “We have not digested the fact that we are free, we don’t have to worry about anything else. Our families have suffered so much since the beginning of this trial and we’re very happy that al Sisi took this action and released us.”
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