On  the 14th of June, Sudan’s ruler, Omar al-Bashir, was allowed to leave South Africa following an African Union summit, despite a court order instructing him to be detained in the country while it investigated a warrant of arrest on charges of genocide issued by the International Criminal Court.

According to South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper, quoting an insider source, Jacob Zuma’s government decided to protect al-Bashir ‘even if it meant flouting court rulings and undermining the constitution’ – something denied by the government, yet it does seem the rule of law was treated as an optional extra.  The same leniency was not extended to Rwanda’s intelligence chief, General Karenzi Karake, arrested in London on the 20th of June under a European Arrest Warrant for mass murder.

While the elites of countries should be brought to account for legal charges laid against them, it becomes more problematic when extradition procedures are applied to journalists, especially when the regime requesting the extradition is as repressive as that of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s. Yet Ahmed Mansour, a prominent Egyptian journalist and talk show host for Al Jazeera was intercepted at Berlin’s Tegel Airport on the 20th of June while attempting to board a flight to Doha, Qatar, where Al Jazeera is principally based.

Eventually, on the 23rd of June, Mansour was released but his case sparked protests and concerned commentary from all of Germany’s political parties.  Egypt has come a long way in a short time from the heady days of Tahrir Square after Hosni Mubarak’s downfall to the flawed but genuine elections bringing to power Mohamed Morsi and now al-Sisi. Notably, al-Sisi’s military coup and subsequent ascension to the presidency in elections has not been regarded as free or fair by international observers.  Qatar, which partly sponsors Al Jazeera, is seen by today’s Egypt as having close links with Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood Party.

On the 22nd and 23rd of June, the German-Egyptian Union for Democracy pressure group gathered roughly 100 protesters outside the Berlin jail where Mansour was being held, waving placards demanding freedom of Mansour, Egypt and journalism in general.  The German Green Party’s Franziska Brantner demanded that the, ‘Berlin judiciary should under no circumstances allow itself to become a willing tool of the capricious regime in Cairo’.  Members of Parliament from the ruling ‘Grand Coalition’ of Christian Democrats and Socialists also protested to show their deep concern.  Rolf Mützenich, deputy parliamentary leader of the Social Democratic Party, told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper, ‘The Egyptian judiciary works by political guidelines. It is anything but independent’.  Philipp Mißfelder, foreign policy spokesman for the Christian Democratic Union added, ‘I think deportations and extraditions to countries that have the death penalty are very problematic’.

Three Al Jazeera journalists, including Australian national Peter Greste and Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, were arrested in Cairo in 2013 and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.  Greste was eventually released (and deported) after 400 days of captivity in February of this year, with Fahmy soon after granted bail.  Their Egyptian colleague, Baher Mohamed, continues to languish in prison as an appeal is presented.  Such a fate would no doubt have awaited Mansour.

Mansour told Al Jazeera in a video made while in jail in Berlin that his arrest was ‘based on a German order and not due to an Interpol order’.  As with the rest of the West, Germany sees al-Sisi as a bulwark against chaos, both from across his border in Libya and within Egypt itself.  It may or may not be coincidental to Mansour’s detention but when al-Sisi visited Germany in late May, he signed off on a multibillion-euro power turbine deal with the German engineering firm Siemens.  Protests against his sojourn were offset by the 100 supporters flown in by Cairo to demonstrate their devotion to the Egyptian president (né coup leader).  Though coming at the invitation of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the displeasure of officialdom was signalled by the speaker of Germany’s Parliament (Bundestag) cancelling a meeting with him, citing human rights violations.

The widespread disquiet in Germany did lead to Mansour’s release, demonstrating that protests can have an unequivocally beneficial and effective outcome.  Media freedom is under greater threat than anytime since the end of the Cold War and it is our duty to try our best to resist the reactionary tide.  Mansour did make it to Qatar but let us not forget the plight of Fahmy or Mohamed still awaiting ‘retrial’.

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