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Egyptian judge wishes al-Jazeera trio a happy Press Freedom Day then refuses bail

By Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian
Saturday, May 3, 2014 10:33 EDT
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Al-Jazeera employees work at the pan-Arab television channel's bureau in Cairo on January 30 (AFP)
 
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Trial of three journalists adjourned until 15 May after brief hearing in Cairo court on World Press Freedom Day

The judge trying three al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt wished them a happy World Press Freedom Day before refusing them bail and adjourning their case until 15 May.

In a brief session on Saturday, one of the trio, al-Jazeera English’s Cairo bureau chief, Mohamed Fahmy, was allowed to leave the defendants’ cage to explain to the judge the nature of journalism. The judge, Mohamed Nagy, then adjourned proceedings because Fahmy’s lawyer had failed to turn up due to a private emergency.

Fahmy, the Australian ex-BBC journalist Peter Greste and a local producer, Baher Mohamed, have been in jail since late December, and stand accused of creating false news, smearing Egypt’s reputation, and aiding terrorists.

They are charged alongside five students with connections to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and prosecutors have tried to show that al-Jazeera is part of a pro-Brotherhood conspiracy.

But Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian former CNN journalist, told the judge that it was normal for journalists to have contacts on all sides of the political spectrum – including both supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, and their liberal opponents, as well as members of Egypt’s military establishment.

“I have great relations with state security, with the army and the intelligence,” said Fahmy. “That’s normal, that’s journalism, that’s my job.”

Later Fahmy told journalists: “I feel like the court is starting to understand what we do for a living.”

This seventh session of the trio’s trial fell on World Press Freedom Day, celebrating the rights of journalists.

After being told of this fact, and about Fahmy’s recent award for his contributions to press freedom, the judge wished him and his co-defendants a “happy World Press Freedom Day”.

During a recess, Peter Greste shouted to reporters from the defendants’ cage: “We recognise the significance of the coincidence of this trial falling on World Press Freedom Day.”

Greste added: “You can’t have a free society without a free press. In Egypt today you know that you can’t provide balance as long as you can end up in prison like us.”

Earlier, a lawyer for the five student co-defendants alleged that they had been tortured in prison.

Sohaib Saad, Khaled Mohamed, Shadi Ibrahim, Ahmed Ibrahim and Anas Beltagy were arrested separately to the al-Jazeera journalists, and – according to a friend campaigning on their behalf – were initially told they would be charged in a separate case.

“When they were arrested, the police told us that they were going to be jailed for having maps of Egypt and planning to kill police officers,” said Sara Mohamed, a friend of the five. “It was only later that they were going to be involved in the AJ case. The boys started laughing out loud when they heard that.”

A fourth al-Jazeera correspondent, Abdallah Elshamy, has been in jail in a separate case since 14 August, and remains uncharged.

Elshamy also appeared in court on Saturday, along with dozens of demonstrators arrested during a crackdown on Morsi supporters, and appeared severely weakened due to his 103-day hunger strike. Shouting to journalists, he said he had lost 35kg and prison authorities still refused to provide him with medical assistance or even acknowledge his strike.

Elshamy said he was living with 15 others in a cramped cell that measured three metres by four, with no access to water for 12 hours a day. “Prison is like living in a pit-hole,” Elshamy shouted before journalists were thrown out of the court.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014

 
 
 
 
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