Egypt

Why The Third Jailed Al Jazeera Journalist Is Being Singled Out

Australian colleague Peter Greste has been deported, and Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy is expected to be released to Canada. But Baher Mohamed, the third Al Jazeera prisoner, is being treated differently for what appears to be a very simple reason.

Baher Mohamed (left) and Mohamed Fahmy in a Cairo court in March 2014.
Baher Mohamed (left) and Mohamed Fahmy in a Cairo court in March 2014.
Dalia Rabie

CAIROConvicted Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste is back in Australia, and reports suggest that fellow journalist Mohamed Fahmy will soon follow suit and be deported to Canada. But uncertainty still looms over the fate of their Egyptian colleague, Baher Mohamed.

The three men were arrested on Dec. 29, 2013, while reporting on the violent aftermath of former President Mohamed Morsi's ouster for Al Jazeera's English division. Prosecuted on terrorism-related charges for spreading false news with the intent of destabilizing the country, the international community was outraged when they were sentenced to seven years in prison.

Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer for Al Jazeera, received an extra three years for accusations that he possessed a bullet at the time of his arrest, meaning he received a 10-year sentence.

Greste was released from prison and deported Sunday in accordance with a recently passed law that allows foreigners to be deported at any point during their prosecution or detention at the request of their home countries.

Judicial sources say the deportation law doesn't apply to dual citizens, which is why Fahmy, who also holds Canadian citizenship, has renounced his Egyptian nationality in a bid for his release.

Jihan Rashed, Mohamed's wife, is frustrated at the injustice. "Are foreigners the only human beings? Is the Egyptian not a human being as well?" she asks.

Rashed laments that little attention has been given to the Egyptian citizen in this case, suggesting that Greste was only released to "shut up the foreign media."

"But how about you actually look into the case?" she demands.

On Thursday, Jihan Rashad launched an international appeal in search of a country that would grant a passport to her husband that might help lead to his release.

When President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued the decree last November to facilitate the deportation of foreign detainees, Greste and Fahmy's families and lawyers fought to invoke the new legislation.

"They went to their countries and their embassies," Rashed says. "But who do I go to? I want my voice to reach the prosecutor general and the Journalists Syndicate. I want my embassy."

Not alone

A group of journalists is now trying to put the spotlight on Mohamed's situation, calling for social media users to circulate his picture and raise awareness about his ordeal.

"His name is Baher Mohamed," former head of BBC Arabic Online, Hossam al-Sokkari, wrote on his Facebook page. "Unfortunately, you haven't heard about him a lot, even though he is in the same case as Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy."

Sokkari lamented that Greste's and Fahmy's names are more widespread, simply because they have foreign nationalities.

Journalists Syndicate board member Khaled al-Balshy also decries Mohamed's continued detention, especially after Greste's release. "You can't release one and have the other two remain in jail when they were all imprisoned in the same case," Balshy says.

"Egyptian nationality cannot be an obstacle that prevents your release," he argues. "Egyptian nationality has now turned into punishment."

But Mostafa Nagy, a member of the journalists' defense team, points out that Greste was "deported," not "pardoned." Legally, he should either be retried in his home country or serve the rest of his sentence there, he says.

Balshy says that the journalists' campaign calls not only for Mohamed's release, but also for the pardon of all Egyptian journalists behind bars.

The Journalists Syndicate has compiled a list of all the imprisoned journalists, including those who aren't syndicate members, and has presented it to the general prosecutor and other governmental entities, Balshy says.

"We are not just calling for imprisoned journalists to be released. We are calling for an environment that prevents the arrests of journalists in the first place," he explains.

Where's the retrial?

In January, the Court of Cassation accepted the defendants' appeal against their guilty verdict and ordered a retrial. But Rashed says that she isn't sure what to expect for her husband, the syndicate's campaign notwithstanding.

Mohamed's fate now rests solely with the judiciary, says Rashed, who's wondering how the court will handle the case in light of recent developments.

"One of the defendants has been released, and the other is in the process of being deported," she says. "How can you still prosecute the producer who was working under them?"

Nagy reiterates Rashed's assertion that Baher's only chance for release lies in the retrial. He says that the defense team would demand his release pending the trial.

Following Greste's deportation, Al Jazeera released a statement demanding the release of the two remaining journalists.

"We will not rest until Baher and Mohamed also regain their freedom," wrote Mostefa Souag, acting director general of Al Jazeera Media Network. "The Egyptian authorities have it in their power to finish this properly today, and that is exactly what they must do."

Rashed says that Al Jazeera is working on Mohamed's case and won't rest until he's free, but that "they only hear the news, like us."

Amnesty International also released a statement calling for Fahmy and Mohamed's immediate and unconditional release.

While hailing Greste's release, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, kept the pressure on authorities. "It is vital that in the celebratory fanfare surrounding his deportation, the world does not forget the continuing ordeal of Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy, who remain behind bars at Tora Prison in Cairo."

Mohamed has three young children. He missed the birth of his youngest son in August 2014 while he was in prison.

In his first interview since his release, Greste called on the authorities to set Fahmy and Mohamed free.

"I feel incredible angst about my colleagues, leaving them behind," Al Jazeera reported Greste as saying. "Amid all this relief, I still feel a sense of concern and worry. If it's appropriate for me to be free, it's right for all of them to be freed."

In a press conference, Greste's family also confirmed that he would not rest until his colleagues were released.

As for Rashed, she says she will keep fighting for her and her children. "I wish I could be proud of my Egyptian nationality," she says. "I want there to be justice and dignity, but this is not the case. This is my right and my children's rights. I want my rights in my own country."

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