Lawyers working for a British pensioner who is facing execution in Egypt for smuggling three tonnes of hashish in his sailing boat say their client is the victim of an elaborate international set-up and has been left “psychologically destroyed” by his ordeal.
Charles Ferndale, 74, who has worked as a freelance journalist for The Guardian and The Times, was sentenced to death by an Egyptian court yesterday alongside four other men who prosecutors said were part of an international smuggling gang.
The crew were arrested in 2011 when security forces and troops raided Mr Ferndale’s 21-ft yacht “Liberty” as it was passing through the Red Sea about 100 miles from the Egyptian-Sudanese border.
The other defendants, who included a Pakistani and three nationals from the Seychelles, were also sentenced to death by hanging after a court upheld an earlier ruling. The case will now go to appeal.
At the time of the arrests, in April 2011, articles in the Egyptian press trumpeted the capture of the alleged smugglers and carried photos of the blocks of hashish which were discovered in the hold of the boat.
But speaking to The Independent, Mr Ferndale’s lawyers said their client, who is now languishing in prison awaiting the result of his appeal, was a “naïve” victim who had been duped into smuggling the drugs by an acquaintance in Pakistan.
“He’s doing fine,” said one of the lawyers working on the case. “He’s a very strong man. But he feels like he is dying and is psychologically destroyed. He is 74-years-old and has done two years in prison.”
His defence team told The Independent that Mr Ferndale, a keen sailor who lives in South Africa, had set off from Cape Town in his yacht bound for The Seychelles.
After reaching the Indian Ocean archipelago Mr Ferndale, who according to a friend in the UK had worked for many years as a journalist in Pakistan, was contacted by a Pakistani acquaintance and asked whether he would be interested in being paid to deliver a cargo of incense to Egypt from Aden in Yemen.
The cargo was described as shipment of incense, said Mr Ferndale’s lawyers, and was to be taken on to Cairo on behalf of an Egyptian man, called Gamal, who Mr Ferndale had reportedly met several times previously through his Pakistani acquaintance
After docking in the Yemeni port of Aden, the cargo was taken on board and the crew once again set sail – still en route to Jordan but now going via Egypt with their goods.
It was only after being arrested that he realised the true nature of his cargo, claimed the lawyers. “Naivety has landed him in hot water,” said a friend of Mr Ferndale’s based in the UK. He spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In court Mr Ferndale’s defence team argued that there was no legal basis for raiding his yacht, saying that at the time it had not been within the jurisdiction of the Egyptian authorities.
But they also had to contend with the testimony from a man who his lawyers say was acting as a supergrass – the Egyptian connection, Gamal, who allegedly made the order for the shipment of incense.
Mr Ferndale’s defence team allege that Gamal and his father have connections with drug barons in Pakistan. “We attacked the credibility of his testimony,” said one of the lawyers. “He was giving his evidence under the agreement that he wouldn’t be prosecuted.” It is a claim which has not been verified.
In a statement the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it would do its “utmost” to prevent any death sentence from being carried out.
Mr Ferndale, meanwhile, will have to wait up to two months to see whether his appeal is successful.