Two Al Jazeera journalists who had been languishing in Egyptian jails for more than 400 days have today been released following a court order. The release of Canadian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed comes shortly after their colleague Peter Greste was released and deported to his country, Australia, on Feb. 1. The two had been accused on charges of aiding a “terrorist organization”.
These two journalists along with 20 more defendants are facing a retrial after an appeals court dismissed their initial convictions in mid 2014. In that trial, Mohamed had been given a ten year prison sentence while Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years.
Fahmy was freed against a bail of nearly $33,000 (250,000 Egyptian pounds), while the remaining defendants were released without any such bond. Judge Hassan Farid said that the case against them was still pending and added that the next hearing in their case would be on Feb. 23. Fahmy and Al Jazeera producer Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian citizen, are still required to attend the sessions of their retrial, legal experts say.
The release of all the jailed journalists comes under a new law which allows the president to expel foreign nationals convicted of crimes in Egypt.
Greste, though elated on the release of his colleagues, underlines that it is not the end to their tribulations via a tweet message, “This is a huge step forward. Not time to declare it over, but at least you get to go home!”
Rights groups all over the world had criticized the trail of the jailed Al Jazeera journalists for aiding the Muslim brotherhood, calling it an eyewash or sham.
“Bail is a small step in the right direction, and allows Baher and Mohamed to spend time with their families,” said Osama Saeed, the Al Jazeera spokesperson in a statement.
“The focus though is still on the court reaching the correct verdict at the next hearing by dismissing this absurd case,” he added.
Ever since the government led by the Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown in 2013, authorities have staged a series of crackdowns and trials against the group and anyone believed to be close to them or aiding them. The brotherhood has since been designated a ‘terrorist organization’.