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Egypt pardons and releases jailed al-Jazeera journalists

Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed in court in Cairo in June. Photograph: Amr Nabil/AP

Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed in court in Cairo in June. Photograph: Amr Nabil/AP

Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, has pardoned two of the three journalists working for al-Jazeera English who were convicted of airing “false news” and biased coverage.

Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian national, and his Egyptian colleague Baher Mohamed were released from prison after being pardoned along with about 100 other people.

The pardons came a day before Sisi plans to head to New York for the 70th session of the UN general assembly.

Fahmy’s lawyer, Khaled Abu Bakr, confirmed the pardon and said his client was a “professional and innocent journalist”.

It was unclear whether Peter Greste, an Australian colleague at al-Jazeera who was deported in February, had also been pardoned.

All three were sentenced to three years in prison last month in a verdict denounced by rights groups and news organisations as an assault on press freedom.

Greste, who was sentenced in absentia, said at the time that the sentences were outrageous. “The prosecution presented no evidence that we did anything wrong and so for us to be convicted as terrorists on no evidence at all is frankly outrageous,” he told ABC television. “We have to keep fighting.”

The long-running trial was entangled in the wider political conflict betweenEgypt and Qatar, where al-Jazeera is based, following the Egyptian army’s ousting in 2013 of the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi.

Evidence presented at the trial ventured into the absurd, including music videos and footage of animals, which defence lawyers and even the judge dismissed as irrelevant. Third-party observers said no evidence proved the charges. Critics described the case as politically motivated.

The men were seeking a pardon from Sisi, who has previously expressed regret over the trial and the damage it has done to Egypt’s reputation, saying it would have been better to simply deport all the journalists.

The case began in December 2013, when Egyptian security forces raided the hotel suite used by al-Jazeera at the time to report from Egypt.

The journalists began using the hotel as a base of operations after the al-Jazeera English office near Tahrir Square was raided by police. Authorities arrested Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed, later charging them with allegedly being part of the Muslim Brotherhood, and airing falsified footage intended to damage national security.

The three men initially were convicted on 23 June 2014, with Greste and Fahmy sentenced to seven years in prison and Mohamed to 10 years for also being found with a spent bullet casing. That ruling was later overturned on appeal by Egypt’s court of cassation, the final stage of criminal appeals, which said the initial proceedings were marred by violations of the defendants’ rights. However, a retrial was ordered, ending with August’s convictions.

-the guardian- Associated Press contributed to this report

 

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