CAIRO – Three Al-Jazeera English journalists imprisoned in Egypt for over a year will appear in court Thursday to appeal their convictions, as thawing relations between Egypt and Qatar have raised hope they could be freed.
Egypt's Court of Cassation will hear the appeal by Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy, Australian journalist Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohammed, all held since December 2013. Their arrests came after the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member.
Authorities accused Qatar-based Al-Jazeera of acting as a mouthpiece for the Brotherhood. The station denied the accusations and said the journalists were doing their job.
At trial, prosecutors offered no evidence backing accusations the three falsified footage to foment unrest. Instead, they showed edited news reports by the journalists, including Islamist protests and interviews with politicians. Other footage submitted as evidence had nothing to do with the case, including a report on a veterinary hospital and Greste's past reports out of Africa.
Fahmy and Greste were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Mohammed got 10 years — three more because he was found with a spent bullet casing. Rights groups dismissed the trial as a sham and foreign countries, including the U.S., expressed their concern over the journalists' detention.
The Court of Cassation, Egypt's highest appeal tribunal, will review the lower court's proceedings, not the case itself. It can uphold the previous verdict or order a retrial.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi also has the power to pardon or deport the foreigners under a new law, whether or not the court grants the appeal. That would allow Greste to go home and would allow Fahmy to go to Canada if he drops his Egyptian nationality. Mohammed's case would remain more uncertain as he holds only Egyptian citizenship.
A recent thaw in relations between Qatar and Egypt has seen Al-Jazeera shut down its Egyptian affiliate, which dedicated much of its coverage to Islamist protests since Morsi's overthrow. El-Sissi said last month a presidential pardon for the three was being "examined" and would be granted only if it was "appropriate for Egyptian national security."