Mohamed Fahmy and two Al-Jazeera colleagues, imprisoned for 12 weeks on terrorism charges, were again denied bail
By Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Special to the Toronto Star, March 25, 2014
And see further below:Egyptian court sentences 529 to death. Help us build a campaign against repression
Statement by ‘Egypt Solidarity’, March 25, 2014
CAIRO, EGYPT—The trial of a Canadian journalist and his two colleagues, who have been imprisoned in Egypt for the past 12 weeks on terrorism charges, was adjourned for a third time on Monday with the defence team’s requests for bail again denied by the court.
Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian citizen and the acting bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English, was arrested by Egyptian authorities on Dec. 29, along with colleagues Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer. The three have been accused of belonging to or aiding a terrorist organization in a case that has sparked worldwide condemnation and accusations of a crackdown on press freedom led by Egypt’s military-backed government.
Monday’s four-hour court session was marked by the defence team grilling government witnesses, including questioning that centred on whether the prosecution was criminalizing basic acts of journalism. Prosecutors have charged the Al-Jazeera journalists with fabricating news reports and tarnishing Egypt’s reputation abroad.
During Monday’s hearing, defence lawyer Khaled Abu Bakr questioned a member of a state media team that issued a forensic report requested by the prosecution. It concluded the defendants manipulated footage to create “false scenes” that endanger national security. When Abu Bakr asked the witness to cite one example, the witness repeatedly said he couldn’t recall any specific scenes, and instead referred back to the report.
Prosecutors accuse Al-Jazeera of being a platform for ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi’s supporters and his group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was designated a terrorist organization by the Egyptian government in December. Some of the charges carry prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years.
“Is broadcasting an opinion opposing the government a crime? Or is it just journalism?” Abu Bakr asked. “This is the entire issue in this case.”
Much of the hearing also focused on the equipment seized from the Marriott hotel room where Al-Jazeera had been operating. When questioned, state investigators repeatedly claimed they couldn’t remember which specific pieces of broadcast equipment lacked proper permits.
“Today’s proceedings show that all the witnesses seem to have Alzheimer’s,” Fahmy said during a brief court recess.
Throughout the hearing, Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed stood in their prison whites inside a caged dock on one side of the courtroom. Several other defendants named in the case with no connection to Al-Jazeera were also present.
“They haven’t presented a single shred of evidence to justify the case against us,” Greste said during a brief court recess. “We’ve spent three months in prison based on unsubstantiated allegations and conjectures by people who don’t seem to understand what we do or how we function.”
Near the beginning of the hearing, Fahmy shouted out to the judge that he needed to get treatment for his injured shoulder, which was broken during his arrest after having been previously fractured. Due to a lack of proper medical care in detention, he now suffers from limited mobility.
Fahmy later demonstrated to reporters how he could only lift his right arm a few centimetres. He also said prison authorities still handcuffed them whenever they were taken out of their cell, even to go to the bathroom. “Why am I being treated like this?” he asked the judge.
On Sunday, interim President Adly Mansour sent a letter to Fahmy’s father pledging to “spare no effort” to quickly resolve the case. He said he had asked the Interior minister to follow up on Fahmy’s medical condition and provide him with the “best treatment possible.”
The note was in response to a letter from Fahmy’s family to the president’s office more than a month ago. “The president’s letter is very important,” Fahmy said during the court recess. “It’s an expression that we will be free.”
In the letter, Mansour stressed “the independence of the Egyptian judiciary and my confidence that your son will get all his legal rights.”
The statement came just one day before a court in southern Egypt sentenced 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death in a mass trial that lasted only two sessions and raised an outcry from rights groups around the world.
“I can’t say I’m optimistic,” said Baher Mohamed’s brother, Assem. “No one understands the criteria by which the judiciary operates.”
The case against the Al-Jazeera journalists has sparked protests in cities around the world, as well as a global social media campaign calling for their release. Before court was adjourned, Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed stressed to reporters that international media attention and pressure was “very important” to their case and had helped improve their prison conditions.
They also called on Egyptian authorities to give them more time outside of their shared cell, where they are locked for 23 hours a day and all day on Friday. The next session of the trial is scheduled for March 31.
Sharif Abdel Kouddous is a Cairo-based fellow of the Nation Institute.
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Egyptian court sentences 529 to death
Help us build a campaign against repression
Statement of Egypt Solidarity, March 25, 2014
Events yesterday show how important it is to build a broad international campaign against repression in Egypt. A court in the Upper Egyptian province of Minya sentenced 529 defendants to death for the murder of a police officer last August in a trial condemned by Amnesty International as “grotesque”. Read the background here
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Add your name to our statement condemning the sentencing of 529 people to death for a single incident in August 2013. Read more and sign online here.
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