Germany’s relationship with Egypt is being thrown into sharp focus after authorities arrested a journalist at Berlin Airport on behalf of Egyptian authorities.
German police detained 52-year-old Ahmed Mansour, a respected news anchor for Al Jazeera’s Arabic news service, on Saturday as he was attempting to fly to Qatar, the Gulf state where the news channel is based.
Egyptian authorities had issued a warrant for his arrest for allegations that he tortured a lawyer in 2011 in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the so called “Arab Spring” uprising that toppled Egypt’s long term autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak that year. The charges were based on video footage that shows a lawyer being kicked in the crowded Cairo square. It is not clear that the person kicking was Mr. Mansour.
Last year Mr. Mansour, who holds British and Egyptian citizenship and is based in Doha, the capital of Qatar, was sentenced by a Cairo court in absentia to 15 years. He has denied the charges against him and called them “a flimsy attempt at character assassination."
On Sunday, Egyptian authorities asked Germany to extradite Mr. Mansour to Egypt. A justice ministry spokeswoman told Handelsblatt Global Edition that the Berlin high court, the Kammergericht, will consider his case early this week.
The court will decide whether Mr. Mansour will receive fair treatment in Egypt. In particular, Germany does not support the death penalty, which is freely used in Egypt.
Mr. Mansour’s arrest has provoked outrage in Germany, with many asking why a European country is arresting journalists on behalf of a military dictatorship. The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists called on Germany to release Mr. Mansour immediately.
"Germany must not be a henchman of Egypt's politically controlled justice system," Niels Annen, foreign policy spokesman for the Social Democrats, told Spiegel Online.
Mr. Mansour has been tweeting and uploading videos to Facebook since he was detained. In one video made shortly after he was arrested, he said: “It is quite ludicrous that a country like Germany would enforce and support such a request made by a dictatorial regime like the one we have in Egypt.”
The arrests come just over two weeks after Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi visited Germany on a controversial state visit.
President el-Sisi came to power two years ago through a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood and former president, Mohamed Morsi. The new military government has branded the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and imprisoned thousands of its supporters.
In May, in a series of mass trials, the government passed a death sentence against Mr. Morsi and some hundred of his supporters. Mr. Morsi faces another trial this week on charges of leaking state documents to Qatar.
After initially keeping President el-Sisi at arms length, Western countries including Germany are gradually building relations with him, believing his government is the best defence against Islamist extremism in the region.
But many politicians are also concerned that the government is trampling over human rights and politicizing its judicial system to suppress all dissent.
During Mr. el-Sisi’s visit, Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Egypt’s human rights records in a joint press conference, prompting Mr. el-Sisi to insist his regime was the “guardian of the people.”
German companies have begun doing business with Egypt again. This year, Siemans signed a €8 billion ($9 billion) deal to build gas and wind power plants and Germany approved an order of submarines for the Egyptian navy.
Al Jazeera had supported Mr. Morsi and been sharply critical of the military coup and President el-Sisi’s regime. Three Al Jazeera journalists were arrested in December 2013 and accused of a variety of charges including aiding terrorism. After a trial in June, they were sentenced to seven years in prison despite worldwide condemnation.
One of them, Australian Peter Greste, was deported to Australia in February after spending just over a year in jail. The other two, Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, were released on bail but are still in Cairo facing further trials.
Mostefa Souag, acting director general of Al Jazeera network, said in a statement: “The crackdown on journalists by Egyptian authorities is well known. Other countries must not allow themselves to be tools of this media oppression, least of all those that respect freedom of the media as does Germany.”