SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- The ordeal of Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste ended Sunday when he boarded a plane for Cyprus hours after his deportation from Egypt was announced, following more than 400 days in jail.
But the move could also put his Canadian-Egyptian colleague Mohamed Fahmy a step closer to freedom.
“His deportation is in its final stages,” his fiancée, Marwa Omara, told Reuters.
Fahmy, Greste and Egyptian journalist Baher Mohammed were jailed on the same terrorism-linked charges.
But days after a flying visit to Egypt from Foreign Minister John Baird, an official said Fahmy’s release from Tora Prison could come “within days,” and the paperwork was now being finalized, the news agency said.
In a further sign of movement, Baird spoke by phone to his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, after Greste’s release, saying that he “remained hopeful that Mr. Fahmy’s case will be resolved in short order.” He thanked Shoukry for his “continued friendship to Canada.”
Fahmy’s mother, Wafa Abdel Hamid Bassiouni, meanwhile, issued an anguished letterto President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, pleading for “humanitarian intervention” to release her ailing son from jail.
“It breaks my heart that (he has been wrongfully framed as a terrorist in a trial that produced no evidence to (support) the accusations,” she said.
“He needs urgent medical treatment for his hepatitis C and permanent disability in his shoulder.”
While working for Al Jazeera’s English language service, Fahmy, Greste and Mohammed were arrested following the military-led coup that ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Hundreds were jailed on suspicion of links with the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.
The Al Jazeera journalists’ plight was worsened by the poor relations between Egypt and the network’s owner, Qatar.
Egypt accused Al Jazeera of biased coverage favouring Morsi and the Brotherhood, while Qatar welcomed fugitive members of the outlawed group and dialed back its financial support for Egypt. But Cairo’s criticism appeared to be aimed at the network’s Arabic-language Egyptian channel, not its separate English operation.
Nevertheless, the three journalists were tried and convicted, with Greste and Fahmy sentenced to seven years and Mohammed to 10 for spreading false reports that aided a “terrorist organization.” Mohammed received an additional three years for possession of a spent bullet.
In a statement following Greste’s deportation Sunday, Al Jazeera acting director general Mostefa Souag said the journalists had suffered an “incredible and unjustifiable ordeal,” and that the network “will not rest until Baher and Mohamed (Fahmy) also regain their freedom. The Egyptian authorities have it in their power to finish this properly today, and that is exactly what they must do.”
Prospects for their release have brightened in recent weeks as relations between Egypt and Qatar improved, with the oil-rich gulf state softening its firmly pro-Brotherhood stand and shutting down its Egyptian channel.
The imprisonment of the three journalists has also become an international embarrassment for el-Sissi, who is in need of Western financial and political support. He later expressed regret that they had been put on trial instead of deported, and issued a decree that allowed the deportation of convicted foreigners.
Egypt’s highest high court ordered a retrial of the journalists last month. The move quashed their sentences, but they remained behind bars before a new trial is held, an event that could take months in the crowded Egyptian courts.
Even if Fahmy is released within days, his immediate exit is not guaranteed. With dual citizenship, he could face more bureaucratic complications than Greste.
Khaled al-Qazzaz, a Canadian permanent resident married to a Canadian citizen, was released after more than 500 days behind bars without charge. But although in need of urgent surgery, he is still awaiting the paperwork that will allow his return to Canada.
Baher Mohammed’s fate, meanwhile, is of special concern to human rights advocates because he is Egyptian, with no foreign country to lobby for him.
“This is what we expected would happen,” his brother Assem told Reuters after Greste’s deportation. “There have been foreigners who they have let leave the country when they were in trouble and their Egyptian colleagues are the ones who paid the price.”
At least 16 journalists have been imprisoned in Egypt, which is holding more than 16,000 political prisoners in conditions widely condemned as deplorable.