Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt apply for deportation

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Journalists Mohamed Fahmy (L), Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste (R) appear in an image broadcast on Al Jazeera. [Photo: Al Jazeera English/supplied]

Journalists Mohamed Fahmy (L), Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste (R) appear in an image broadcast on Al Jazeera. [Photo: Al Jazeera English/supplied]

Two Al Jazeera journalists who were handed lengthy and controversial prison sentences in Egypt last year have formally requested to be deported after the country’s top court ordered the pair and a third journalist be retried on charges of collaborating with a terrorist organization.

Correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy asked Egypt’s chief prosecutor to send them home after an appellate court denied them bail on Thursday. The deportation request takes advantage of a recently-enacted presidential decree that permits foreigners charged with crimes to be tried outside of Egypt.

Baher Mohamed, a third Al Jazeera journalist also serving time in jail, is unable to take advantage of the decree because he is an Egyptian citizen.

The trio were arrested in December 2013 on charges of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and reporting false news during political protests earlier in the year. The protests saw the ousting of Muslim Brotherhood-supported Mohamed Morsi as president. Shortly after Morsi left office, the political group was labeled a “terrorist organization” by Egypt’s interim government.

Critics familiar with Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language broadcasts have accused the news channel of showing favoritism toward the Muslim Brotherhood in the past, an accusation the news organization has publicly denied.

On the charges, Al Jazeera has vehemently rejected any notion that their reporters committed any crime. Supporters, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, have likened the accusations against the reporters to an attack on press freedom in Egypt.

Following a trial widely regarded by advocacy groups as a sham, the trio were sentenced to seven years in prison. Mohamed was ordered to spend an additional three years in custody for possession of ammunition. Al Jazeera says the ammunition was a spent bullet casing that Mohamed found while covering a civil demonstration.

Despite spending over a year in jail, supporters of the men hold out hope that their release will be forthcoming. Although there has been no official word on when a release might take place, there have been signs that the Egyptian government is uncomfortable with having the three journalists in their custody for the long term.

In July, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi defended the government’s decision to sentence the journalists to jail, but added that he would have liked to have seen the journalists deported instead.

Prosecutors have since acknowledge the verdict against the men had “major problems,” according to a defense lawyer who spoke with the BBC.

The preliminary stages of the retrial are expected to begin within the next month. During that time, the three men will remain in jail.