After six months in detention and four on trial, three Al Jazeera journalists will learn on Monday whether they will walk free or face years in an Egyptian jail.
The trio – Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed – are accused of belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, broadcasting false news, and working without a permit.
Mr Greste, an award-winning Australian journalist, previously worked as a correspondent for the BBC. Mr Fahmy, Al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief, is known for his coverage of Egypt’s restive Sinai peninsula. He is a Canadian-Egyptian citizen.
While the Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has made representations to the Egyptian government on behalf of Mr Greste, Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, has not done so publicly for the Cairo bureau chief.
Prosecutors have demanded that the journalists be handed the maximum sentence – seven years for Greste, an Australian citizen, and 15 for Mr Fahmy and Mr Mohamed, due to their status as Egyptian nationals.
Their ten month ordeal has drawn stinging criticism from rights groups.
Critics say they are being persecuted for simply doing their job, and that they are casualties of a geopolitical battle between Egypt and Qatar, which owns the Al-Jazeera network.
The trial has been a drawn out and often confusing process.
The prosecution presented evidence that included videos of a trotting horse, and images retrieved from Al Jazeera hard drives that were in use before the three journalists came to work for the channel.
Mr Fahmy and Mr Greste were arrested in late December, after a police raid on their temporary office suites in a five-star Cairo hotel. A 22-minute video clip of their arrest, set to the bombastic soundtrack of a Hollywood film, was later shown on Egyptian television. Mr Mohamed was arrested from his home on the same day. He says police shot his dog, Gatsby.
When Egypt’s general prosecutor finally released the indictment, one month later, there were twenty names on the charge sheet, including Al Jazeera correspondents not based in Egypt and a group of students with no known connections to the journalists.
The five students who have appeared in court have repeatedly claimed that they were tortured in custody. Two months into the trial, they were joined by a ninth defendant, who is the head of an Islamic charity.
The Qatari-owned Al Jazeera network has faced mounting pressure from the Egyptian authorities since former president Mohamed Morsi was deposed in a military takeover on July 3. Its Egyptian outlet, al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, is one of the few remaining channels perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The defendants are among up to 41,000 people who have been arrested in the year since Mr Morsi’s overthrow.
In private Egyptian officials often admit that the case has been damaging to the country’s reputation, but paint it as the result of a power struggle between hardline and moderate elements within Egypt’s military-backed authorities.
Speaking ahead of the verdict, Mr Greste’s brother Mike said his family had endured a torturous wait. “The days are going extraordinarily slowly,” he said, “but we hope it will all be over tomorrow.”
Source: The Telegraph