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Journalists sentenced to life imprisonment, death granted retrial in Egypt

This statement was originally published on freemedia.at on 4 December 2015.

The International Press Institute (IPI) today welcomed an Egyptian court's decision granting a retrial in the case of 13 journalists and media workers sentenced to life imprisonment and one sentenced to death, but emphasised that the state must provide clear proof of any crimes and ensure that the defendants receive a fair trial.

Egypt's Court of Cassation yesterday accepted an appeal in the “Rabaa Operation Room” case, in which the journalists and media workers, as well as others, were charged with plotting unrest, spreading false news and leading an operations room in support of deposed President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian government considers a terrorist organisation.

The ongoing case began in August 2013 when government forces brutally cleared a camp erected in Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya Square to protest the Morsi's removal from office by the military. The 14 journalists and media workers were among those arrested and a court in April 2015 handed them their respective life and death sentences.

“Today's decision granting the journalists and media workers' appeal is certainly a step in the right direction,” IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said. “However, as we saw in the retrial of Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed earlier this year, a retrial does not guarantee that justice will be done.

“We urge Egyptian authorities to ensure that the defendants are given a trial that comports with all standards of due process and to take steps to implement a broad series of expert recommendations for improving the country's press freedom climate that IPI released in August. And absent evidence that the defendants present a clear and compelling threat to public safety, we urge their immediate release pending their retrial.”

Supporters of the defendants previously complained to IPI of difficulty of mounting the appeal. In May, a representative of some of the journalists' families told IPI of a delay in providing the full details of the trial court's ruling to the defendants. An appeal must normally be submitted within 60 days after the sentencing date and the delay left attorneys preparing the appeal request with even less time than normal to do so.

In other news, IPI this week criticised Egypt's detention on Tuesday of freelance journalist Ismail Alexandrani upon his return from Berlin, reportedly for joining an illegal group, spreading rumours and disturbing the public peace. Prosecutors ordered Alexandrani, who denied the charges, jailed for 15 days pending further investigation.

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