The three Al Jazeera English journalists imprisoned in Egypt await an appeal on Thursday, while their hopes largely rely on foreign pressure on the Egyptian authorities.
The US administration expressed its concerns about the detained Al Jazeera journalists and their situation as they completed a year imprisoned in Egypt on Monday.
State department spokesman Jeff Rathke told journalists in a briefing that the United States continues to express deep concerns directly to the government of Egypt about the detained journalists. We are watching the trial closely.”
The journalists, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, were arrested in Cairo last December. They were sentenced in June to between seven and ten years in jail, on charges of aiding a terrorist group, tarnishing Egypt’s image abroad, and threatening national security.
An appeal court session awaits the three journalists on 1 January as they hope to see their sentences annulled.
Rathke said that the US administration believes “all journalists should be able to do their jobs free from intimidation or any fear of retribution, and we continue to urge the Egyptian government to respect the freedom of the press, protect civil society, and uphold the rule of law, which is crucial to Egypt’s long-term stability”.
He added: “We call on the Egyptian government to consider all available measures for redressing these verdicts.”
The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, had previously denounced the jailing verdict describing it as “chilling and draconian”.
A foreign intervention to help solve the issue is the only hope the journalists have. Fahmy sent messages via his Twitter account on Tuesday through his family, who visited him in prison, saying that his lawyer “will fight for a suspended sentence on 1 January until the trial proceeds should judge order a retrial”.
Fahmy believes a retrial is an unlikely outcome highlighting the possibility of a suspended sentence. However, he said: “It is imminent that Peter and myself be deported if judge orders retrial. To be tried in Oz/Canada and currently figuring out how.”
Last week, Fahmy made statements from Tora Prison in Cairo to the Canadian state broadcasting agency CBC, pleading for Canadian government intervention to release him and his colleagues.
He pleaded for immediate help as the appeal session date approaches saying: “That phone call I desperately need from the Canadian government I need now.”
He added: “My dialogue with the media has never outright attacked or critiqued the Canadian government’s stance. But now I’m a desperate Canadian citizen that needs the government to stand by me as much as they can.”
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made statements Monday regarding mixed signals form Egyptian authorities regarding the journalists’ situation.
“We had indications that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi would exercise his authority regarding a pardon or a clemency plea in advance of the appeal,” she was quoted by Reuters as saying.
However, Bishop stated that the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, told her that “we have to await the appeal”.
Al-Sisi commented on the journalists’ case following the sentence jailing them, saying he wished the journalists were deported instead of being tried. In November he said a presidential pardon for the journalists “is being studied”.
Al-Sisi approved a law in November that allows him to deport foreign defendants to their home countries before a court issues a final verdict against them. The law gives the president the power to deport them when it is in the need of “the state’s interests”.
Presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef explained that the law was issued to “maintain Egypt’s international image”.
Qatari government-owned Al Jazeera closed its live streaming channel focused on Egypt but airing from Qatari capital Doha, Mubasher Misr, earlier this month. The move came just two days after a meeting between Al-Sisi and the Qatari Emir’s special envoy Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdel Rahman Al-Thani, which formalised a Saudi-brokered reconciliation between the two countries.
The governments of Egypt and Qatar were at loggerheads for over a year following the ousting of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. Cairo accused Doha of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and sowing instability within the county, with the two countries only recently reconciled.
Al Jazeera expressed hopes for the journalists’ struggle to end Thursday, according to its statement Monday. Al Jazeera also asserted that it has always considered the case is “politicised”.
Doha Centre for Media Freedom called for releasing the journalists saying this would be “the first step towards opening a new chapter in Egypt-Qatar relations”.
Fahmy said in his tweets Monday that he was thrown into a “political battle” between Egypt and Qatar, made clear to him during interrogations. However, he feels positive after reconciliation between the two countries acknowledging the political nature of the case, explaining: “We are victims of a cold war”.
Egyptian Press Syndicate board member Khaled El-Balshy said the syndicate firmly denounced the imprisonment, saying that “the case is journalists doing their job”.
El-Balshy added that before and after the sentence, the syndicate intervened and demanded better conditions for the journalists in prison. They demanded the prosecution to suspend the sentence until the appeal is heard before the court.
The syndicate’s statement following the sentence mentioned that the constitution guarantees press independence and security of journalists while doing their jobs.