Germany frees Al-Jazeera journalist sought by Egypt

AP News
|
Posted: Jun 22, 2015 1:45 PM
Germany frees Al-Jazeera journalist sought by Egypt

BERLIN (AP) — An Al-Jazeera journalist detained by German authorities on an Egyptian arrest warrant emerged from a Berlin judicial building Monday again a free man after prosecutors decided not to pursue an extradition request further.

Ahmed Mansour pumped his right hand in the air as crowds waiting for him outside the building's main gates chanted "down, down with military rule."

"I am free now despite el-Sissi," Mansour told the supporters, referring to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. "I thank all the free people in the world," as well as "the honest, honorable judges of Germany."

He chanted "Allahu Akbar" — "God is great" — through a microphone before being whisked away by a waiting car.

Mansour, 52, was detained on Saturday at Berlin's Tegel airport as he tried to board a Qatar Airways flight to Doha. A dual Egyptian-British citizen, he was convicted in absentia in Egypt on charges that his lawyers and reporters' groups call politically motivated.

Berlin prosecutors decided Monday afternoon to free Mansour, and said he could leave the country whenever he wanted. The decision came after examining details of the Egyptian case and also taking into account "political and diplomatic concerns" as discussed with Berlin state and federal authorities, spokesman Martin Steltner said in a statement.

"After the evaluation, the concerns over agreeing to extradition couldn't be dispelled despite assurances from Egypt," he said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters earlier that while the case was up to judicial authorities to decide, the ministry had regularly spoken out against human rights issues in Egypt and the widespread use of the death penalty and had the option to veto any extradition.

"There will be an intensive examination of the criminal allegations in the light of due process in the Egyptian judicial system, particularly in relation to cases involving the media or to people who are close to the Muslim Brotherhood," Schaefer said.

Egypt considers Al-Jazeera a mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that it has labelled a terrorist organization. It is trying three journalists from Al-Jazeera's English-language channel accused of being part of a terrorist group and airing falsified footage intended to damage national security

Mansour's attorney Patrick Teubner said there were no strings attached to his client's release and that there were no further charges or legal matters pending against him in Germany.

"I think that was absolutely the right decision," Teubner told The Associated Press. "There was no other alternative."

Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the justice building before Mansour was released, carrying signs with slogans including "stop the bloodbath in Egypt" and "freedom for Ahmed Mansour."

After news broke of his release, Al-Jazeera General Manager Yasser Abu Hilala spoke to the broadcaster in a studio in Qatar saying "this is a happy day."

"It is a victory for the freedom of the press in the face of authorities," he said.

According to court documents, Mansour was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison, alongside two Brotherhood members and an Islamic preacher, for allegedly torturing a lawyer in Tahrir Square in 2011, a charge both he and the channel rejects.

The court ruled that Mansour and the Brotherhood members had been running and operating a detention center in a travel agency office overlooking Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands held a sit-in against longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Mubarak stepped down after the 18-day uprising and the country's first democratic elections were held in 2012, bringing in to office Islamist President Mohammed Morsi of the Brotherhood.

But Morsi's time in office was marred with unrest as critics accused him and his group of monopolizing power and seeking to impose overtly Islamic legislation.

El-Sissi, as army chief, led the July 2013 military ouster of Morsi after massive public protests. A bloody crackdown ensued, killing hundreds of Islamists and landing thousands of them, as well as secular activists, in jail.

The crackdown also included closing down media close to the Islamists and showing little tolerance for critical voices.

An Egyptian prosecutor, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with the press, said the arrest warrant invoked the international convention against torture.

___

Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed to this report.