Court / Presiding Judge
First Review: Cairo Criminal Court/Judge Nagy Shehata
Second Review: Cairo Criminal Court/Judge Hassan Fareed
Second Review (for Ahmed Abdullah): Cairo Criminal Court/Judge Hassan Farid
On December 29, 2013, Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy, and Peter Greste were arrested and detained; in January 2014, 20 defendants were referred to court. In June 2014, the verdict upon first review was issued. In January 2015, a retrial was granted. Greste had been released and deported under the country’s Extradition Law. In August 2015, a verdict upon second review was issued. On September 23, 2015, President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi issued a pardon for 100 detainees, among them Fahmy and Mohamed. In January 2016, the court issued its verdict upon second review for a defendant who turned himself in belatedly and had initially been sentenced in absentia.
Upon first review, Fahmy and Greste received seven-year sentences, while Mohamed received a 10-year sentence; three students and an Islamic charity worker were sentenced to seven years, and 11 Al Jazeera employees were sentenced to 10 years in absentia. Additionally, two students were acquitted. Upon second review, Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed, Sohaib Said, Khaled Abdel Raouf, and Shady Abdel Azim were sentenced to three years in prison. Baher Mohamed was also sentenced to an additional six months and an LE5,000 fine. Khaled Abdel Rahman and Nora al-Banna were acquitted of all charges. Upon second review, defendant Ahmed Abdullah was acquitted.
Summary of Reasoning
The defendants were sentenced on charges of aiding a terrorist organization and spreading false news. The initial verdict tied the defendants to the Muslim Brotherhood, accused the defendants of using unauthorized equipment, and accused the defendants of spreading false information. Baher Mohamed was also additionally accused of weapons possession for having an empty tear gas canister and a spent bullet.
Evidence offered in this case included a wide scope of content, most of which did not seem to relate to the subject matter. Some of the unrelated evidence included a program about horse welfare by Sky News Arabia, a BBC documentary about Somalia, raw footage of a Kenyan press conference, and a song by Gotye. During the trial, investigators admitted that they did not know the difference between Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr and Al Jazeera English.
Legal & Judicial Implications
According to lawyers, the harsh sentences issued in this case reflect an unprecedented crackdown on the ability of journalists to conduct their jobs. There is fear that cases like this will be pave the way for future constraints on freedom of speech and press. An additional concern is that the harsh sentences at hand were the result of a politicized process in light of relations between Egypt and Qatar. Finally, although Fahmy and Mohamed were pardoned in this case, it must be noted that a pardon is a band-aid solution to a deep-seated institutional need for legal and judicial reform.