A senior British human rights lawyer was threatened with arrest in Egypt, after writing a report that identified serious flaws in the country's judicial system.
Amal Clooney, among the team of lawyers representing one of three jailed Al-Jazeera journalists, told The Guardian on Saturday that her report had found that Egypt’s judiciary is not completely independent, since Ministry of Justice officials wield power over nominally non-aligned judges.
When she tried to release the report, compiled in February 2014 on behalf of the International Bar Association, Clooney says Egyptian officials threatened to arrest her.
"When I went to launch the report, first of all they stopped us from doing it in Cairo," she told the Guardian newspaper.
"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,'" said Clooney, who represents Mohamed Fahmy, one of three Al-Jazeera journalists who last week marked their first year in an Egyptian jail on charges of aiding a “terrorist organisation.”
The report, based on a fact-finding mission in mid-2013, warned about the wide powers that ministers had over judges and highlighted a record of selective prosecutions.
One of the recommendations in Clooney's report, written before she had any connection to the Al-Jazeera journalists’ case, was to end the practice that allows Egyptian officials to handpick judges in certain politicised cases.
"That recommendation wasn't followed, and we've seen the results of that in this particular case, where you had a handpicked panel led by a judge who is known for dispensing brutal verdicts. And this one was no different," she said.
At the time of the men’s prosecution in June 2014, Human Rights Watch reviewed evidence exhibited in the case and found “no evidence indicating any criminal wrongdoing” – the men’s supporters have always insisted that the charges are politically motivated.
Egypt's top court on Thursday ordered a retrial of Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, but kept the journalists in custody pending a new hearing.
Fahmy and Greste are seeking deportation, under a law enacted by presidential decree in November 2014 that allows foreign defendants to be tried in their home countries, and is thought to have been written with this specific case in mind.
Meanwhile, Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian national, will not be able to apply for deportation under this law - his wife said she is looking at ways to get him out of Egypt.
Clooney said she hoped that the deportation of her client, Mohamed Fahmy, would go ahead "in fairly quick terms", expressing little confidence in a retrial.
"I don't see how the prosecution can proceed again in a trial process even if the judges were to be constituted properly this time around. I don't see how they could fix the lack of evidence," she said.
"We have to continue and double our efforts to achieve his release in other ways. Unfortunately we have to conclude that we can't rely on these Egyptian court processes to achieve a fair or swift result," she said.