By Miro Guzzini
Prominent Al Jazeera journalist and Muslim Brotherhood supporter Ahmed Mansour has been released by the German authorities, two days after he was stopped at Berlin’s Tegerl airport and detained for reasons not yet clear, according to the Qatar based Al-Jazeera news network.
In October 2014, an Egyptian court sentenced Mansour to 15 years in prison in absentia on charges of torturing a man in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the 25 January revolution.
A speaker for the general prosecution of Berlin announced on Monday evening that Ahmed Mansour would not be extradited to Egypt and would be released.
According to a statement from the prosecution, the decision was motivated by legal issues as well as “non-negligible political and diplomatic concerns”. These “concerns” had been discussed with the appropriate German federal authorities, which had concluded that “in spite of Egyptian guarantees”, the “concerns” could not be ignored and the accused had to be set free.
The exact nature of these “concerns” was left vague, adding another source of confusion to what the German press has dubbed a “highly delicate” case, in FAZ’s words.
A late arrest, a criticised warrant, conflicting charges
Indeed, the detention and subsequent release of Ahmed Mansour in Berlin has caused strong reactions from the German press, the public and several politicians, reactions that are unlikely to abate quickly in light of the many questions and uncertainties still surrounding the case.
The circumstances of the arrest have been curious from a German point of view. Firstly, if there was a need to arrest Ahmed Mansour, why was this not done when he entered Germany last week? ask dailies like FAZ or Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The question of the arrest warrant is equally unclear. Claims by Egypt’s foreign ministry that Interpol had provided the warrant were initially dismissed both by Ahmed Mansour and the German police.
However, a spokesman for the German foreign ministry confirmed on Monday that it was the Interpol warrant from October 2014 that had allowed for the arrest.
Zeit Online writes that Interpol received the warrant on 2 October, 2014, but that the organisation only voiced objection to the warrant 18 days later, unlisting Ahmed Mansour as a wanted person.
Mansour’s claim that he was not wanted by Interpol is thus accurate in the sense that Interpol objected to his warrant.
In spite of this objection, the BKA confirmed the warrant on 27 January, 2015 according to Zeit Online, upon examining it and consulting the German foreign ministry and the Federal Office of Justice. This made the arrest of the Al Jazeera journalist possible, but still does not explain why it did not occur as soon as he entered Germany.
Such confusion and lack of transparency is not to the liking of German politicians, as well as the fact that the federal government approved of the warrant despite warnings from Interpol.
“We’re not sure of what type of warrant was used or of the extent of German-Egyptian cooperation on such matters”, Green MP Franziska Brantner complained to the German public TV (ARD), a hint that the federal government might face calls for increased transparency in the future. Brantner further questioned the pertinence of collaborating with Egypt, a country she called a “torture regime”.
A further source of confusion is the remaining uncertainty around the charges on which Mansour was arrested. On the evening of Mansour’s arrest, the German federal police spoke of “several accusations” submitted against him. Yet two days later, with both the case and the extradition request seen by judges, German authorities still have not clarified the nature of these charges.
Charges cited by his lawyers range from “having harmed the reputation of Egypt massively” to rape, abduction and torture according to AP. According to Al-Ahram, the general prosecutor of Egypt further spoke of charges of incitation to violence and murder.
Egypt’s judiciary under scrutiny
The conflicting reports about these charges leave the German press in doubt about the entire case, doubts that are magnified by a prevailing impression that the Egyptian judiciary cannot be trusted.
“For months it has been openly visible, how ‘justice’ is being made in Egypt,” Peter Sturm writes in a commentary for Zeit Online, and demands extreme caution in dealing with any accusations coming from the Egyptian judiciary.
Sturm’s concern have been echoed across the political spectrum in Germany, as well as from NGOs and other groups.
“If there are charges that can be substantially underscored, they must be tried before a German court,” the head of the Green Party Can Özdemir told DPA on Monday morning. “Under no circumstances should an extradition to Egypt take place, a country without rule of law.”
Similar positions were echoed by politicians from the Social Democrats.
“The Egyptian judiciary is working according to a political agenda and is anything but independent. This must be taken into consideration”, MP Rold Mützenich told Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.
While members of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union have been less polemic in their wording, one MP equally urged “great, great care” in examining cases like that of Ahmed Mansour, according to ARD.
Small demonstrations have been held in Berlin demanding Mansour’s release, according to AP. The largest one, held on Sunday, numbered 80 people and was organised by the German-Egyptian Union for Democracy, the wire reports.
The German Union of Journalists, several NGOs like Reporters Without Borders and prominent German academics have also criticised the arrest, accusing Germany of making itself accomplice to a “dangerous” regime, Süddeutsche and Zeit Online report.
Among them is Guido Steinberg, the researcher and advisor to the chancellory interviewed by Mansour in Berlin, who claimed that the German authorities were helping Egypt to “silence a dissident,” according to Süddeutsche.
More importantly, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe called for Mansour’s immediate release on Monday, according to AFP. With such prominent voices uniting in questioning its actions, the German federal government will be hard pressed to come up with further clarifications on their proceedings in handling the case of Ahmed Mansour.