Al-Jazeera journalists face more jail time, eye deportation
CAIRO - Agence France-Presse
The brothers of jailed Australian journalist Peter Greste, Mike (L) and Andrew Greste (R), speak to the media during a press conference in Brisbane on January 2, 2015. AFP PhotoThree Al-Jazeera journalists faced Jan. 2 the prospect of at least several more weeks in prison after Egypt's top court granted them a retrial in a case that sparked international uproar.
Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were detained in December 2013 for spreading false information and accused of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.
Greste's lawyer said he had submitted a request to have his client deported from Egypt under a new law signed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
A similar demand has been made to deport Fahmy to Canada, according to his fiancee Marwa Omara.
In the first trial, Greste and Fahmy each got seven years, and Mohamed was jailed for 10.
Egypt's top court on Thursday ordered a retrial, but kept the journalists in custody pending a new hearing.
A decree signed in November by Sisi allows him to deport foreigners sentenced to prison or on trial.
"We presented this week a request to the prosecutor to expel Greste in accordance with the presidential decree," Greste's lawyer Mostapha Nagi told AFP on Friday. It is unclear how long the process will take, but Greste's family said they would apply for bail if it failed.
"The procedure is drawn out," Nagi said. "After the request is made at the prosecutor's office, it must be submitted to the council of ministers (cabinet) to be approved and then to the president of the republic to consider his expulsion."
Greste's family said they had been advised that a retrial could start within 45 days, meaning the three could potentially spend at least several more weeks in custody.
Speaking to reporters in Brisbane Friday, Greste's brothers Mike and Andrew said that deportation was "the best option to get Peter home".
One Egyptian senior official told AFP that were Greste's application to succeed, "it would be the first such case" under the new law.
In a short hearing on Thursday, the Court of Cassation accepted requests by both the prosecution and defence for a retrial for the three jailed journalists.
Greste's parents told Australia's ABC News they were "shocked" by the decision.
"This was always on the cards but even though we have learnt not to expect anything, or (to) expect the unexpected, we did expect a little bit better than this," his father Juris Greste was quoted as saying.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was more upbeat.
"He is now back in the position of an accused person awaiting a trial," she told Australia's Nine Network in comments reported by the AAP news agency.
"So that opens up a whole raft of new options for Peter and his family."
Mohamed's wife Jihan welcomed the retrial as a "small but positive step towards my husband being freed".
Al-Jazeera called for the swift release of its employees.
Acting director general Mostafa Souag said they had been "unjustly imprisoned".
"Their arrest was political, the sentencing was political and their being kept in prison is, for us, political," he said.
Greste's lawyer said that the three journalists were now wearing white prisoner uniforms instead of their usual blue fatigues, indicating their renewed status as accused individuals rather than convicts.
Hopes for the journalists' release have grown since a thaw in diplomatic relations between Egypt and Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based.
The reporters, who authorities say lacked proper accreditation, were sentenced in June for aiding the Brotherhood after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Hundreds of journalists, many with black tape over their mouths, held silent protests after the three were sentenced to challenge what they see as growing media censorship in Egypt.
Egyptian authorities have been incensed by Al-Jazeera's coverage of their deadly crackdown on supporters of Morsi, accusing Doha of backing his Muslim Brotherhood party after his overthrow in July 2013.
The Brotherhood, which saw electoral success after the ouster of longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, has since been declared a "terrorist organisation" in Egypt.
Eleven other defendants, tried in absentia, including one Dutch and two British journalists, had been sentenced to 10 years.
They would be retried only if they surrendered to the authorities.