Egypt reporter to stand trial alone as foreign colleagues freed

Cairo (AFP) - With Australian Peter Greste freed and a Canadian colleague close to release, the other Al-Jazeera journalist arrested in Cairo faces languishing in jail for an indefinite period because he has only Egyptian nationality.

Under global pressure to release the prisoners, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a decree tailored for Greste and colleague Mohamed Fahmy, allowing the deportation of foreigners but overlooking Baher Mohamed in the process.

Greste, an acclaimed reporter for Al-Jazeera English, was deported last week.

Fahmy, a dual national, had to renounce his Egyptian citizenship and his release and deportation to Canada is imminent, a government official said.

But in the face of delays, prominent lawyer Amal Clooney, who married Hollywood star George Clooney last year, has requested a meeting with Sisi to press Fahmy's case, a letter obtained by AFP on Saturday showed, leaving Mohamed in the cold.

"We're paying the price for being Egyptian," his embittered wife Jihan Rashid told AFP.

"It's the peak of injustice for my husband to remain in prison and be tried while his foreign colleagues are freed," Rashid said.

The three, all employees of the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera English broadcaster, were arrested in December 2013 and tried for allegedly supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood in their coverage.

The trial came against the backdrop of a cold war between Egypt and Qatar, which supported the Islamist movement of president Mohamed Morsi, whom Sisi deposed in July 2013.

The three were sentenced to seven years in prison, and the court handed Mohamed an additional three years because police who searched his home found a spent bullet casing he had picked up at a protest.

A court in January ordered a retrial for the three, without setting a date, but Mohamed is set to stand alone in the dock.

- Seeking new nationality -

"Their deportation means in effect their innocence," the 32-year-old producer's wife said of Greste and Fahmy.

"Why should my husband remain in prison?"

His only options are an acquittal or a presidential pardon, which Sisi's office has said could only come after the retrial, his lawyer Mostafa Nagy told AFP.

Rashid, who with Mohamed has three children, one a boy born while his father was in jail, said she fears that interest in his case will fade once Fahmy is also deported.

"I am seriously working on getting him another nationality," she said, watching her three boys play in the garden of their Cairo suburb villa.

Greste's release was welcomed by the Western governments that pushed for his release and Al-Jazeera, which continues to insist all its reporters be freed.

In Egypt, however, where anti-Qatar and Islamist sentiment runs high, Mohamed is scarcely on the radar.

"The Egyptian media doesn't mention him and is unconcerned about his fate," Rashid said.

Media advocacy groups say at least 10 journalists are imprisoned in Egypt, where reporters increasingly censor themselves for fear of angering the government or being tainted as Islamists.

"Baher's crisis is part of the suffering of Egyptian journalists in general," said his father Mohamed Hazem.

In her last visit to Mohamed in prison, he flatly turned down the idea of obtaining another citizenship, Rashed said.

"I did nothing wrong to have to drop my citizenship," she quoted him as saying.

But she remains defiant: "I'm looking for another nationality for him and my children to protect their rights in the future, to find a foreign embassy to defend us in courts."