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Joy for Greste

Tom Stevenson, CairoFebruary 2, 2015

The release of Al Jazeera English correspondent Peter Greste has been enthusiastically welcomed internationally, but little hope remains for Egyptian reporters behind bars, writes Tom Stevenson in Cairo.

Ägypten Ausweisung Journalist Peter Greste ARCHIVBILD 2013
Image: REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya/Files

Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste was finally released from Cairo's Tora prison on Sunday (01.02.2015) and is now on his way home to Brisbane, but for 11 other reporters who remain imprisoned in Egypt's jails there is little to no hope of reprieve.

Greste was sentenced to seven years along with fellow Al Jazeera reporter Mohammed Fahmy in June 2014 on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization (the banned Muslim Brotherhood), of aiding and funding the brotherhood, and of "spreading false news" that damaged Egypt's reputation.

Their Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed was sentenced to 10 years on the same charges aggravated by the possession of a bullet casing that was found on him upon his arrest.

In total, Greste spent 400 days in detention before being spirited away Sunday afternoon to Cairo airport where he boarded Egyptair flight 741 to Larnaca, Cyprus. His brother Andrew Greste told reporters that he "couldn't wipe the smile off his face" after hearing the news of his brother's deportation.

Image boost

The Egyptian government is currently more aware of its international image as a major international investors conference in Cairo approaches in March.

Inhaftierte Al-Dschasira-Reporter vor Gericht Peter Greste
Greste (r) and his other co-defendants enter court in CairoImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Elfiqi

Parliamentary elections are also scheduled to begin next month and may have weighed on the decision.

"Deporting foreign prisoners has long been a political tool used by Egypt's rulers to present themselves as nice guys who are taking steps to show good will to the international community," Ahmed Morsy, an independent Egypt analyst, told DW.

"Authorizing Greste's deportation is no exception; it's designed as a message to the world that [President] Sisi is acting within the rule of law and is respecting rights. But convoluted decrees for foreign nationals only is not how things should work, it's not a good message for Egypt," he said.

Greste was deported following the application by Egypt's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of a presidential decree originally passed in November 2014 that allows the president to deport foreign nationals who have been convicted in Egypt and are serving their sentences in the country's prison system.

Double standards

However, the law only applies to foreign nationals and not to Egyptian or dual Egyptian national detainees. Greste's colleague Mohammed Fahmy is a dual Canadian-Egyptian citizen and therefore would likely only be eligible for deportation were he to renounce his Egyptian citizenship.

"There is a good chance that Mohammed will be freed and deported, but only if he renounces his Egyptian citizenship which would leave him with just Canadian nationality to his name," Shaaban Saeed, a defense lawyer who has worked on the Al Jazeera case, told DW.

"Fahmy now has a dilemma, and a decision hasn't been fully made and announced yet, but the option to renounce is there. Of course, we have no firm idea of when he would be released if he were to do this," Saeed said.

Kenia Protest gegen Inhaftierung von Journalist Peter Greste
Fellow journalists protested against the arrest of GresteImage: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

While for Fahmy there are small signs of hope, the situation is even less promising for detained reporters without a second nationality. The law currently offers no chance of release for Greste and Fahmy's Egyptian Al Jazeera colleague Baher Mohamed.

Off the radar

The Al Jazeera three aside, there are also nine other reporters jailed in Egypt who have received considerably less international attention.

Mahmoud Abuzeid, better known by his nickname "Shawkan," is an Egyptian citizen photographer and has been imprisoned without charge for almost 18 months following his arrest on August 14, 2013, when Egyptian security forces forcibly cleared sit-in demonstrations in Rabaa and Nahda resulting in the deaths of as many as 1,000 people.

"Clearly we're happy for Peter Greste and send congratulations. It is good news," Shawkan's brother Mohammed Abuzeid told DW. "However, we have heard nothing in relation to Mahmoud's case - absolutely nothing."

"Mahmoud is ill and this is a very bad situation for us, very bad indeed," he said.

For Shawkan and the other Egyptian reporters, who still reside in the country's prisons, the release of Greste is no doubt welcome, but it is also a stark message that being Egyptian comes with a heavy price.