CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Thursday he was considering pardoning two of the three Al Jazeera journalists jailed in his country.
The three journalists were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail on charges of spreading lies to help a “terrorist organisation”, an allusion to the Muslim Brotherhood, in a ruling that sparked a global outcry.
Sisi issued a decree last week that allows him to repatriate foreign prisoners, raising the prospect that Australian Peter Greste and Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy could be released.
The third Al Jazeera journalist behind bars, Baher Mohamed, is Egyptian, so would not be expected to benefit.
“Let us say that this matter is being discussed to solve the issue,” Sisi said in an interview with France 24 when asked if he would use a presidential pardon to free the two Al Jazeera journalists who held foreign nationalities.
Asked when a decision might be made, he said: “If we find this appropriate for the national security of Egypt, we will do it.”
Sisi has previously refused to intervene in the case, suggesting that doing so would undermine judicial independence. But he said in July he wished the trio had been deported and not put on trial.
The Qatar-based Al Jazeera has called the accusations against its three journalists absurd. Human rights groups condemned their trial as a sham, Western governments decried the verdict, and the United Nations questioned Egypt’s reputation and the independence of its judiciary.
Relations between Egypt and Qatar have been strained since mid-2013 when then-army chief Sisi ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But those tensions have showed signs of easing recently. Qatar expelled prominent Brotherhood leaders in September and Egypt on Wednesday welcomed an agreement to end an eight-month dispute amongst Gulf Arab states over Qatar’s support for the Islamist group.
Reporting By Stephen Kalin and Maggie Fick; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Crispian Balmer