British-Lebanese lawyer Amal Alamuddin, who married Hollywood actor George Clooney in September, was threatened with arrest in Egypt over her criticism of the country’s justice system for flaws that led to the jailing and trial of three al-Jazeera journalists.
Alamuddin-Clooney represents Mohamed Fahmy, the media network’s Egyptian-Canadian bureau chief in Cairo, who along with Australian Peret Greste and Egyptian freelance producer Baher Mohamed, were convicted of terrorism charges in June 2014. Their supporters say the charges were politically motivated.
The convictions sparked international outrage, months after their arrest in December 2013 amid accusations of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi earlier that year.
They were sentenced to between seven and ten years in prison but Egypt’s highest court in Wednesday ordered a retrial. Hundreds of journalists, many with black tape over their mouths, held silent protests after the three were sentenced to challenge what they see as growing media censorship in Egypt.
In an interview to British media, Clooney said a report she co-authored on Egypt’s judiciary system was seen as so controversial, she was told she faced arrest.
“When I went to launch the report [in June 2013], first of all they stopped us from doing it in Cairo,” Clooney said. “They said: ‘Does the report criticise the army, the judiciary, or the government?’ We said: ‘Well, yes.’ They said: ‘Well then, you’re risking arrest.'”
Clooney’s report included recommendations on key reforms including abolishing the practice of appointing judges to high-profile cases.
“That recommendation wasn’t followed, and we’ve seen the results of that in this particular [Al Jazeera] case where you had a handpicked panel led by a judge who is known for dispensing brutal verdicts,” she told the Guardian.
In August, she wrote that “sentencing a political opponent to death after a show trial is no different to taking him out on the street and shooting him. In fact, it is worse because using the court system as a tool of state repression makes a mockery of the rule of law.”
The two journalists who hold foreign citizenship are eligible for deportation and their families have indicated that the requests have been filed.
Hopes for the journalists’ release have grown since a thaw in diplomatic relations between Egypt and Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based.
Egyptian authorities have been incensed by Al-Jazeera’s coverage of their deadly crackdown on supporters of Morsi, accusing Doha of backing his Muslim Brotherhood party after his overthrow in July 2013.
The Brotherhood, which saw electoral success after the ouster of longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, has since been declared a “terrorist organization” in Egypt.