Lawyer: network could wreck case for Peter Greste

Peter Greste’s lawyer came forward with worrying allegations against Qatari-owned world news network Al Jazeera Wednesday, saying a new case brought by the media organization against Egypt could seriously undermine its journalists’ chances of successfully appealing their multiple-year sentences in a Cairo prison, reports the Australian Broadcasting Company ABC.

Farag Fathy Farag, the attorney preparing to defend Australian-Latvian correspondent Peter Greste at his eighth and possibly final court hearing next Thursday, accused Al Jazeera of diluting arguments against the sentencing and imprisonment of Greste and his two Egyptian colleagues, whose reporting for the Arabic-language network’s English service brought them under the arrest of state security authorities cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood political movement led by ousted former president Mohammed Morsi.

Held since December 29, 2013, Al Jazeera’s three-man field team of Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed were finally sentenced in June for the falsification of news in the interests of abetting what Egypt’s authorities had deemed a “terrorist organization”.

However, the hearings caused an outcry around the world, condemning the court for a hasty and one-sided approach to finding the men guilty as charged.

Al Jazeera, in a parallel move through the Carter-Ruck law firm in London, served a Notice of Dispute last week against the state of Egypt, seeking damages of $150m not only for the unjust mistreatment of its field team, but also for closing the network’s Cairo offices, blocking its bank accounts and jamming its satellite broadcasts inside the country. It accuses Egypt of breaking a 1999 bilateral investment treaty with Qatar.

But the reportedly chaotic cavalcade of lawyers recruited locally to defend the imprisoned correspondents has never had any significant backing from international legal experts representing the network in London and New York.

Now Farag claims that Greste, if called to personally respond to the judge during next week’s hearing of his case, will face undue hostility because of the actions of his employer and be less able to defend his innocence of the charges that he was part of a news-falsification scheme.

Mr Farag says it may erode any sympathy for Greste at next week's crucial hearing.

"This will have a negative impact on the case," he said.

"I might lose any sympathy I might be able to earn from the court. This act might have a negative effect on the defendant and it might not do any good to them."

Egypt’s President El Sisi and the security apparatus currently in charge are cited as being overtly hostile to Al Jazeera, which owned by Qatari ruler Sheikh Al Thani and has been cited as being sympathetic to Morsi’s forces that gained popular support and power in Egypt during the wave of Arab Spring revolutions in 2012.

Potentially most shocking are Farag’s claims to have received unsolicited funds worth up to $1.5m from the TV network with instructions to stage and pay for protest demonstrations prior to the events in December leading to the three journalists’ arrest. Moreover, he alleges monies were also intended for the hiring of “thugs” to attack the paid demonstrators to further provoke popular violence and state-enforced crackdowns in Cairo.

In the story broken exclusively Wednesday by iMediaEthics, Farag’s claims were rejected in a blanket denial from Al Jazeera, which repeated its stated position on the jailing of its English-language field team.

"In seven court hearings, nothing of any substance has been presented to the judge supporting the allegations against our staff," an Al Jazeera spokesman told ABC.

"Their detention is totally unjust, and the amount of time they've spent behind bars for being great journalists is outrageous.

"We must therefore keep the focus on calling for their freedom, and pursue every possible way, including all legal avenues, to keep the pressure on for their release.

"A softly, softly approach to such a serious and worrying situation won't work. The vocal and viral global campaign for their release has left the Egyptian authorities in no doubt about our determination to get our men back."

Greste's hearing next Thursday will be his eighth, but it is the first hearing devoted to the defence, and could be one of the last appearances before a verdict is delivered.

Despite his disappointment with the new Al Jazeera lawsuit, Farag says he remains hopeful that his client will be acquitted.

"Based on the evidence and all the hearings, Peter is in good shape legally. I have a good feeling that he will be satisfied at the end," he said.

Meanwhile in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald published a statement Thursday from Peter Greste’s brother Andrew, a Queensland farmer, reiterating his family’s “simple and most sincere request to bring on the appeal as soon as possible.”

“Peter is now ‘in the system’; court proceedings have to ‘run their course’. We remain respectful of the process; we may not agree with it and certainly have not agreed with the outcome, however we accept we have to deal with Egypt’s legal system,” he wrote.

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