An Egyptian court will conclude one of Egypt’s most hotly debated cases since the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in 2013, and one of the longest trials the country has recently witnessed: the infamous “Al Jazeera case”.
Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed await the Cairo Criminal Court’s final verdict on accusations of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, spreading false information on Egypt’s national security, and promoting terrorism, through their work as journalists at the Qatari channel.
“Will justice be served this Thursday? We must keep shouting,” Greste posted on his Twitter account as the day approached.
Fahmy spoke to Daily News Egypt one day before the trial as they reflected on the case and their jailing for 411 days.
What are the main thoughts that come to mind when you reflect on what happened a year and seven months ago?
The first thing I think about is who I was before prison and who I am now. Then, my mind goes into overdrive of how dignified Greste, Mohamed and myself remained while facing the most gruelling prisons, solitary confinement, a complicated trial, and the fact that we were thrown right into the middle of the Qatari and Egyptian ongoing geopolitical rift.
I have also learned that to survive prison and the ongoing legal battle since my release on bail, one has to think out of the box – balance one’s spiritual, mental, and physical being all the time.
Moreover, the sea of love I received from family, Marwa my better half, thousands of strangers who wrote to me during my time in prison, and you journalists has changed me and inspired me forever. Would you say the progress of the trial changed the case, or public perception of the case? Ironically, we were arrested at the peak of the eradication of the Muslim Brotherhood on 29 December 2013, four days after I literally reported the breaking news of the designation of the Brotherhood as terrorists.
Before we arrived to the police station and before the investigation, we were declared terrorists on TV. In the first trial, we were hit hard with an unjust brutal sentence that was politicised.
The retrial went better as the technical committee viewing the video evidence informed the judge that the reports were not fabricated. I also believe the judge understands now we did not conspire with the Brotherhood.
What about the issue of the licences? The judge was very focused on the issue of operating without proper broadcasting licenses.
It was news to us journalists in the cage when the prosecutor presented a report to the judge confirming that all Al Jazeera licences had been revoked before our arrest.
Our lawyers asked the judge to separate the responsibilities of the network from our duties. The managers of the channel should be behind bars, not us.
I worked really hard on changing public opinion to our favour, which was a mission impossibleconsidering the ongoing pitiful biased journalism of Al Jazeera Arabic and Qatar’s continuous meddling into Egypt’s internal matters through other media platforms they fund in Turkey.
I hope the judge exonerates us from the terrorism and fabrication charges and understands that we journalists had no intentions of malice against Egypt. The support I received from public figures such as Mr. Amr Moussa, Mr. Farouk El Baz, and Mr. Naguib Sawiris was very helpful inside and outside court.
Did lawyer Amal Clooney actually contact the presidency? Did you receive any responses?
She has been communicating with the Egyptian ambassadors abroad and officials in Cairo to prove my innocence.
Indeed, she submitted requests to meet the president, the prosecutor general, the justice minister and the prime minister, and has received a response from the foreign ministry that she would be welcomed in Egypt.
She obtained her business visa and has already written a deportation and pardon request that will be submitted to the prosecutor and presidency if I am sent back to prison, endorsed by the Canadian embassy.
Have you, at any point during this year-and-a-half, lost hope?
I am a realist who understands that the outcome of this trial may also be decided by factors other than evidence. The battle continues and I will appeal again if we are sentenced or given a suspended sentence on Thursday.
Regardless of the upcoming verdict, do you feel you had a fair re-trial, with rights of defendants respected?
The problem stems from the investigations, which were way off! The trial itself had many loopholes because the prosecution was in reality trying to prosecute Al Jazeera, not we innocent journalists.
I corrected their path and sued Al Jazeera internationally for their negligence and misrepresentation, which contributed to our detention. That is all I will say for now.
You have stated that your trial was a result of political crisis between Qatar and Egypt. As an Egyptian citizen, did you feel that your position was weak in the face of the state?
Of course, I was framed as a Brotherhood member, a traitor who sided with the enemy. It’s farthest from the truth because I protested against the Brotherhood as a private citizen before joining Al Jazeera.
I am also from a patriotic family, so it’s a difficult situation for me. However, I continue to defend myself, stating that I accepted the challenge to work in Al Jazeera English knowing it’s different than the pitiful journalism of Al Jazeera Mubasher and Arabic.
However, the authorities here didn’t see the difference and we journalists of the balanced English channel paid the price.
Will this case in any way cause you to end your career in journalism?
On the contrary, this case has bolstered the importance of journalism in my being more than ever. The media served as my last line of defence and I owe it to you and the global journalism community for this epic support.
I just signed a contract to lecture at the University of British Columbia School of Journalism in Canada as an adjunct professor starting September, and will be doing the same at the University of Michigan under the Knight Wallace Fellowship in January. There is no doubt I will return to the field but in due time after I decompress and get some time off.
What journalistic accomplishment are you proud of?
I cherish entering Iraq on the first day of the war in 2003 with the LA Times, and covering the Arab Spring with CNN, which has proven to be a mirage.
How do you see the suppression of the press in Arab countries?
I believe the true meaning of press freedom does not exist anywhere in the world, but we have to keep fighting for reform even if the gains are meagre.
However, there are countries worse than others, which is becoming an epidemic because a society with no press freedom is an ill one.
The days of the handbook of full government control used in the ’50s and ’60s are over thanks to social media, where nothing hides. Of course, there was an improvement in press freedom in the Arab world, but governments went into a state of hyper-paranoia after the death of the Arab Spring, in hopes to suppress that spirit of free speech that we witnessed.
I believe there should be new press laws to better protect us journalists and the readers as well.
What is your current health situation? How are you doing and what do you still need to do?
The shoulder fracture I sustained days before the arrest was exacerbated in prison from medical negligence. I went through an operation during my detention and a seven inch metal pin was placed in my shoulder. I still need another bone corrective operation I hope to do as soon as I land in Canada.