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Family of Jailed Al Jazeera Journalist Says Releases Are 'About Nationality'

The family of jailed Al Jazeera journalist Baher Mohamed spoke to VICE News about his condition and why he remains behind bars while his colleagues are freed.
Photo via AP/Heba Elkholy

The family of jailed Al Jazeera journalist Baher Mohamed has demanded his release from Egyptian jail, as it appears likely he will remain behind bars while his co-defendants are freed.

Mohamed, a freelance news producer, has now been held in Cairo for more than 400 days. He was arrested along with Al Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian who was the news organization's Cairo bureau chief


Greste was released Sunday and promptly deported to his native Australia. Fahmy has given up his Egyptian citizenship in order to secure his freedom and will be released "imminently," according to Canadian officials.

It appears unlikely that Mohamed, an Egyptian with no dual nationality, will be freed along with his colleagues. Speaking with VICE News in their family home outside Cairo, Mohamed's wife Jihan and father Hazem said his citizenship condemned him to harsher treatment from his own government.

"The three defendants' charges are the same, but I can't believe that they [Fahmy and Greste] will be released while he stays," Jihan said. "It's not about the case, but about nationality… They're favoring all other nationalities over Egyptians."

Hazem added that the "privilege of Egyptian nationality used to be a dream," but, "now one man [Fahmy] was forced to drop his to be free and it is being kicked out into the garbage."

Egypt releases jailed Al Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste. Read more here. 

Jihan visited Mohamed in Cairo's Tora prison hours before speaking to VICE News and relayed a message from him describing himself as a patriotic Egyptian and saying he would never renounce his citizenship, but instead fight to be acquitted. "I told him that I wished he had another nationality so that he'd be released too, but he convinced me that he shouldn't… he said he hadn't committed any crime and was proud of being Egyptian," she said.


All three men were found guilty of multiple charges, including "spreading false news" and collaborating with terrorists in June 2014 after a farcical trial that was widely criticized by human rights groups.

While Fahmy and Greste were handed seven-year prison sentences, Mohamed received 10 years. An Egyptian court overturned their convictions on January 1 and ordered a retrial, but they remained in detention.

There has been significant international pressure to release the three journalists. Several heads of state have appealed for their freedom, and a mass solidarity campaign appealed to the Egyptian government via social media. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi decreed in December that foreigners held in Egyptian jails could be deported, a step believed to have been made in reaction to the outcry.

After reports of Greste's release on Sunday, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior told VICE News that the journalist was being sent to Australia to "complete his punishment," implying that he was still considered guilty of his alleged crimes.

Hazem and Jihan said that they had only found out about Greste's release via local news outlets and had not been contacted by Al Jazeera since it happened. Greste, however, called to give them an update on Mohamed's condition, they said, and to assure them that he would campaign for his release.

Egyptian court upholds death sentences for 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Read more here. 


Greste told Al Jazeera on Monday that he felt "incredible angst for my colleagues." He added, "If anyone has suffered out of all of this it is Baher because he has a wife and children, one of whom was born [while Mohamed was] inside prison."

Jihan said Mohamed is in "very good" psychological shape and physically fit. But, she added, he has untreated dental problems that re so painful that she's been delivering powerful painkillers to him. Guards, she alleged, demanded cigarettes from him in exchange for releasing him for a legally permitted hour's exercise outside his cell.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says Egypt is the world's sixth-worst jailer of journalists. An annual census conducted by the organization in December 2014 found that local reporters accounted for 10 out of 12 media members held behind bars in Egypt.

Sheirf Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator, told VICE News that even if Fahmy is released alongside Greste, it may not mean bode well for others. "The news is bittersweet because it means foreign journalist only are valued enough for Egypt's government to release and eliminate injustice against," Mansour said.

Thousands of Egyptians are still jailed as part of an ongoing crackdown that began in July 2013 after the military removed President Mohamed Morsi — Egypt's first democratically elected leader — from power. Since then, tens of thousands of citizens have been detained, including many members and supporters of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which was designated as a terrorist organization on December 25, 2013.

Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck