In 2004, only one news organisation stayed in Fallujah to report one of the bloodiest battles the US fought in the Iraq War. It was only thanks to Al Jazeera’s reporter Ahmed Mansour and its cameramen Layth Mustaq that the world knew what was going on in the city. Their reports so upset the US military, that it made Mansour’s exit from the city a condition of a ceasefire. Donald Rumsfeld called his reporting “vicious and inaccurate”. There can be no higher accolade for a war reporter.
On Friday Mansour was arrested at Berlin’s Tegel Airport as he was about to board a Qatar Airways flight to Doha, where he now runs a talk show watched by millions around the Arab world. The charge against him was concocted in Egypt, where mass death sentences are pronounced in just over an hour, and where people are hung for crimes they physically could not have committed – because they were in prison at the time.
The German authorities are well aware of this because the Chancellor Angela Merkel went out of her way to criticise Egypt’s use of the death penalty, during her press conference with Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when the Egyptian leader visited Germany recently: “Under no circumstances, even with regard to terrorist activities, must people be sentenced to death,” she said.
Nevertheless Mansour was detained on a warrant prepared in Cairo. Mansour, who has dual Egyptian and British citizenship, has been convicted in absentia of “carrying out torture against a lawyer in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the revolution” of January 2011, a charge so ludicrous it collapses at the first hurdle. Even Interpol rejected it, saying in October that a red notice request for Mansour’s extradition “did not meet their rules”. So the arrest warrant was prepared by the German Public Prosecutor himself in consultation with Cairo.
Sisi’s campaign against Al Jazeera journalists is no secret either, after what happened to Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who were convicted of “aiding the Muslim Brotherhood”.
Despite all this, Mansour was detained with the threat of extradition to a country whose kangaroo courts hang people on whim. His release today was a brief triumph. There are others over whom the same threat hangs. Germany remains a transmission belt for the corrupt rulings of Egyptian courts.
Anyone who thinks that the courts are independent of the executive in Egypt should listen to the authenticated tapes of discussions that took place in Sisi’s own office about how to fabricate evidence of the detention of former President Mohammed Morsi.
In the recording, General Mamdouh Shahin, a legal advisor to the state’s military council, warns Abbas Kamel the head of Sisi’s office that the case against Morsi is in danger of collapsing because he was detained in a military barracks rather than a prison run by the interior ministry. This is illegal under Egyptian law.
“The attorney general is requesting fabrication of detention date to an older period or anything,” General Shahin can be heard to say. “Minister of Interior should meet me tomorrow at the prison service and give me the name of the building and we mention a descriptive name, for example – the building ‘blah blah’ will be allocated but he shouldn’t mention inside a military unit.”
This is a glimpse of what is really happening in Egypt, as opposed to the picture opportunities its ruler will get when he is ushered into 10 Downing Street.
There is something wrong here. While Britain’s current reading of its obligations under universal jurisdiction allows people like Sisi and his ministers to enter and exit the jurisdiction of our court system with impunity – people who had command and control at the time of the massacres in Cairo in August 2013 and against whom prime facie evidence of crimes against humanity exist – the same system allows these alleged war criminals to prosecute and trap journalists like Mansour.
Neither the British police nor the Crown Prosecution Service when presented with this evidence are quick to serve warrants. Their examination of the evidence drags on from one year to another, as they dodge and weave their way out of fulfilling their obligations under universal jurisdiction. International justice in Britain is pressed into the service of political expediency.
No-one is more aware of this than Sisi himself. When his visit was announced there was an outcry in Germany. Norbert Lammert, the speaker of the German parliament, announced that he was cancelling a planned meeting with Sisi over his regime’s human rights record. To avoid further embarrassment, an Egyptian judge was told to postpone a hearing to confirm the death penalty against Morsi.
As soon as the visit was completed, Morsi was sentenced to death. Shortly after that Sisi’s invitation to the UK was confirmed. The Times argued last week that Sisi’s visit should go ahead because “If Britain does not have a strategic relationship with Mr Sisi, it will forgo any opportunity to put pressure on him to restore democracy and open the country’s institutions. It will be abandoning a ruler whose interests are those of Britain’s and whose enemies are a mortal threat.”
It is, alas, the other way round. Merkel and Cameron’s endorsement of Sisi prolongs Egypt’s agony, increases the prospect of a total social breakdown of the most populous Arab nation, and has absolutely no effect on the human rights situation in the country. In welcoming Sisi to Britain, Cameron is not helping Egypt. He is aiding and abetting its most blood stained ruler.
– David Hearst is editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He was chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian, former Associate Foreign Editor, European Editor, Moscow Bureau Chief, European Correspondent, and Ireland Correspondent. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: A relief sculpture of the blindfolded allegorical personification of Lady Justice can be seen at the Moabit criminal court near the prison in Berlin’s Moabit district, where Al-Jazeera journalist Ahmed Mansour allegedly is being held in custody, on 22 June, 2015 (AFP)