TORA, Egypt — Together with two colleagues from the cable news channel Al Jazeera English, I have spent more than a year in jail. We were accused of joining a terrorist group conspiring against the Egyptian state and reporting “false news.” In reality, we were simply doing our job as journalists.
Then, on Jan. 1, Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed and I learned that our appeal had succeeded and that our case would be retried. We had hoped for more: to be released on bail pending the new trial, which will take months to convene. But we took heart from the court’s ruling. It was official confirmation that our original trial was seriously flawed and that our convictions, in June, were erroneous.
We have been pawns in a geopolitical game that had nothing to do with our work as impartial professionals. The government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi chose to view us as agents of a malicious political agenda. In reality, we are closer to being hostages.
I started work as chief of the Al Jazeera English bureau in Cairo in September 2013. That month, an Egyptian court banned the Arabic-language TV channel Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, an Egyptian affiliate also owned by Qatar. In issuing the ruling, the judge said that the Arabic service was biased toward the Muslim Brotherhood and had become a threat to national security.
Despite the banning of Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, I accepted the challenge to run the Al Jazeera English bureau because I trusted the professionalism of its journalists and because I believed the Egyptian government would respect the difference between the two channels…
…It’s no secret that Qatar supported the government of President Mohamed Morsi politically and financially. When millions of Egyptians, with the support of the military, ended the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule on July 3, 2013, Qatar retaliated by withdrawing $10 billion in investments. The Saudis stepped in, soon joined by Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and pledged $12 billion to support Egypt’s interim government…
…Qatari and Egyptian newspapers have quoted government officials from both countries saying that a pardon for us would be forthcoming within days. I welcome Mr. Sisi’s recent statement suggesting an intention to free the Al Jazeera English journalists.
Instead, we now face a further trial, with no guarantee of a just verdict. Mr. Greste and I have foreign citizenship and have applied to be transferred to Australia and Canada, respectively. My lawyer Amal Clooney is advising me on the legalities of a possible transfer to Canada under a new presidential decree allowing foreign nationals to stand trial or serve their sentences abroad.
The questions haunt us: How might the laid-back citizens of Canada and Australia perceive these warring parties as they settle scores in legal no-man’s-lands at opposite ends of the globe? Is Mr. Sisi using us to continue to smear Al Jazeera as a propaganda machine for Qatar? Is Qatar exploiting our case to damage Egypt’s reputation on human rights? As long as we’re still in jail, we remain pawns.
This is part of a larger pattern. The hysteria of the “war on terror” has become, in part, a war on journalists. Covering the shifting geopolitics of the region is like walking into a minefield.
Journalists have been kidnapped and killed, even beheaded. Others have been injured or jailed. My arm has been permanently disabled because a shoulder fracture I received before my arrest went untreated in prison for so long.
I would like to remind Mr. Sisi that in the war he is waging against the cancer of political Islam and its violent offspring, journalists are not enemies but allies. We expose the truth about the terrorism he is striving to defeat.