A high-profile Al Jazeera journalist arrested in Germany at the request of Egypt said he expected to soon face a judge who would decide whether or not to extradite him, in a case likely to raise fresh questions about Cairo’s crackdown on dissent, Reuters reports. Ahmed Mansour, a leading talk show host on the channel’s Arabic service, was arrested in Germany on Saturday. His is the latest in a string of such cases brought by the Egyptian authorities against Al Jazeera journalists.
Egypt accuses Al Jazeera of being a mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Qatar-backed Islamist movement which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled in 2013 when he was army chief and accuses of being a terrorist group. Both the television channel and the Brotherhood reject the allegations made by Egyptian authorities. Mansour told Al Jazeera by telephone: “The German authorities told me that we are dealing with an international criminal case” and a judge would decide whether he should be extradited to Egypt.
Cairo’s criminal court sentenced Mansour, who has dual Egyptian and British citizenship, to 15 years in prison in absentia last year on the charge of torturing a lawyer in 2011 in Tahrir Square, the focus of the popular uprising that toppled veteran leader Hosni Mubarak. Jazeera said at the time the charge was false and an attempt to silence Mansour, known to viewers across the Arab world.
Saad Djebbar, a lawyer for Al Jazeera, said Mansour was arrested unexpectedly on Saturday as he tried to board a Qatar Airways flight to Doha. “This is a very serious development,” Djebbar said. “We knew that the Egyptians were going to set such a trap to harass our journalists and that is what has happened.” A spokesman for the German Federal Police said a 52-year-old man was arrested at Berlin’s Tegel airport following an international arrest warrant from the Egyptian authorities.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said Egypt was coordinating with the German authorities. “He is accused of a crime and was sentenced so of course we have called for him to be returned,” he said.
Critics accuse the west of turning a blind eye towards what they say is Egypt’s crackdown on dissent and freedom of speech in favor of improved economic ties and regional security cooperation. Sisi toppled Islamist Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s first freely-elected president, in 2013 after mass protests against his rule. Sisi visited Germany earlier in June at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s invitation. The head of Germany’s parliament canceled a meeting with him, citing rights violations in Egypt.
During Sisi’s visit, German industrial company Siemens signed an 8-billion-euro deal ($9 billion) with Egypt to supply gas and wind power plants to boost the country’s electricity generation by 50 percent. On Sunday, deputy head of the Left Party in Germany’s parliament Wolfgang Gehrcke told the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper: “Everyone knows that the rule of law in Egypt is built on sand – if you can even speak of a rule of law. Of course we can’t extradite him. In countries where there is the death penalty, there should be no extraditions in general.”
The Cairo government denies allegations of widespread human rights abuses. Egypt released Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste in February this year after 400 days in prison on charges that included aiding a terrorist group. Mohamed Fahmy, a naturalized Canadian who has given up his Egyptian citizenship, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were released on bail in February after spending more than a year in custody. The journalists were originally sentenced to between seven and 10 years in prison on charges including spreading lies to help a terrorist organization, which they have denied.
Egypt’s high court ordered a retrial in January.