Jailed al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste could be returned to Australia before the end of his prison sentence in Egypt, after the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, issued a decree allowing the deportation of foreigners accused of crimes on Egyptian soil.
The decree, issued on Wednesday, stated that at the request of government prosecutors, and with the approval of cabinet, the president “may agree to deliver the defendants and transfer the sentenced to their own countries, either for their trial or the execution of their sentence”.
The decree does not mention Greste by name, but it could allow Sisi to intervene in his case earlier than expected. The president had previously claimed he did not have legal jurisdiction to intervene before Greste’s legal proceedings were finished – a process which could take months.
It is unclear whether the decree would apply to Greste’s colleague, the Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, who is treated as Egyptian by the courts. Their third jailed colleague, Baher Mohamed, is not covered by the decree as he holds only an Egyptian passport.
The trio were jailed for between seven and 10 years in June on charges of aiding terrorists, smearing Egypt, and doctoring footage. The evidence presented against them included a song by the singer-songwriter Gotye, footage of horses, and a press conference from Kenya – leading the international community to view their conviction as politically motivated.
The head of al-Jazeera English, Al Anstey, said he was not raising his hopes about the decree, arguing that it was the latest of many twists and turns in the treatment of his employees. He told the Guardian foreign governments needed to apply more pressure on Egypt to release the trio. “There is always more that can be done on every level,” Anstey said.
But questions have also been asked of al-Jazeera, amid concerns that it failed to secure the most competent lawyers available for the case. Fahmy has engaged local and international legal representatives after becoming dissatisfied with the options presented by al-Jazeera.
“Al-Jazeera English … should take positive steps to assist him in his bid for freedom and refrain from taking any action that might undermine his cause,” Fahmy’s international lawyer, Amal Clooney, said last week.
The trio will appeal against their conviction on 1 January. The appeals court can uphold or strike down the verdict on the basis of procedural irregularities – or, as is most likely, send the case to retrial, a process that will take months.