SYDNEY (Reuters) - Al Jazeera reporter Peter Greste, deported after spending 400 days in an Egyptian jail on charges that included aiding a terrorist group, fears he will be found guilty in absentia at a retrial that resumes in Cairo next week.
Australian Greste and two Al Jazeera colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, were sentenced to seven to 10 years in prison last June in a case that provoked an international outcry.
A retrial was ordered after Egypt’s highest court found procedural flaws in the initial case began in February, soon after Greste was deported to his native Australia.
Greste said he had been represented by a lawyer at the retrial hearings but was ordered to attend in person when the hearing resumes on June 1 or be tried in absentia - a ruling that would mean he would be found guilty regardless of the evidence or the judgment on his fellow defendants.
“Effectively, that means I will automatically get a conviction if I don’t appear but of course I can’t go back because President Sisi deported me, so I’m stuck in this legal limbo,” Greste told Reuters in Sydney.
“The problem is this has never happened before. They’ve never had a defendant deported from the country while the trial is ongoing so there is no formal legal mechanism for the judge to take me off the case.”
Greste, with the help of the Australian government, has offered to appear by video link but has not had a response from the court or Egyptian government.
This month, Amnesty International said Egyptian authorities were using the courts to stifle journalism, highlighting how several reporters had been detained for long periods without charge or trial. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry denied there had been any targeting of journalists.
Egyptian authorities accuse Qatar-based Al Jazeera of being a mouthpiece of the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood - the movement Sisi removed from power in 2013.
Al Jazeera denies the accusation. But the network has been accused by Fahmy, a naturalized Canadian who gave up his Egyptian citizenship, of negligence and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in a $100 million lawsuit.
“This is a case Mohamed Fahmy has brought, it’s something he feels very strongly about against Al Jazeera. I wasn’t involved in that case,” Greste said.
“My view is that we need to focus very much on the trial and the allegations against us in Egypt ... Al Jazeera isn’t on trial in Egypt, Qatar isn’t on trial in Egypt - it’s the three of us.”
Editing by Robert Birsel