Al Jazeera journalists, Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohammed Fahmy, and Egyptian Baher Mohammed, have been thrust into the limelight due to their detention and remand to stand trial on accusations of terrorism in Egypt. The three journalists along with 17 others are accused of aiding a terrorist organization and broadcasting false news. The terrorist organization in question was the Muslim Brotherhood, which served as Egypt’s largest and oldest political organization and had dominated Egyptian elections since the 2011 military coup that usurped former President Hosni Mubarak from power.
The charges stem from the Egyptian government’s assertion that the accused aided and abetted the now banned Muslim Brotherhood and deliberately manipulated the news to cast Egypt in a tumultuous light, and therefore, imperiled its national security and image aboard. During their hearing on Monday the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges against them and requested the judge release them on bail, insisting charges of terrorism were baseless and unfounded. The judge rejected the bail request from Greste, Fahmy, and Mohammed at Monday’s hearing, the fourth so far that has occurred since the trial opened on Feb. 20.
The trial marks the first time Al Jazeera journalists or journalists from any publication have been charged and remanded on accusations of terrorism in Egypt, which has drawn enormous international criticism. Besides the three Al Jazeera journalists, five other defendants were in court on Monday, with the rest being tried in absentia. In an atypical move, Judge Mohammed Nagi Shehata allowed all the defendants out of the cage, which serves as the dock in Egyptian trials, to approach the bench and address him directly with requests. This action allowed Greste, Fahmy, and Mohammed to plead their cases and claims of innocence directly to the judge. They argued for release on bail based on the claim that they had no connection to the Brotherhood, no criminal record or history of violence, and no weapons at the time of their arrest.
Greste contends that the accusation he has any association with the Muslim Brotherhood is absurd. Additionally, he stated that he was an award-winning journalist of integrity with several years of experience and constitutes no threat to anybody in Egypt. Moreover, he presented the fact that he had been in the country only two weeks prior to his arrest. Fahmy, who had suffered from a broken arm just prior to his arrest, had asked to be released to receive better medical care since his injury has deteriorated as a result of harsh prison conditions. Additionally, Fahmy also denied accusations that he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He told the judge he was a hard-drinking liberal who lived abroad for a long time, and added: “Have you ever heard of a (Muslim) terrorist that drinks alcohol?” Mohammed pleaded for mercy and requested release so he could be with his pregnant wife. Additionally, he informed the court that he had previously worked for a Japanese news organization with the highest international standards.
Of the other 17 defendants who have been remanded to stand trial along with the three Al Jazeera journalists, six more are employed by Al Jazeera in various capacities. Among the remaining defendants are known Brotherhood supporters who were arrested separately, including the son of prominent Brotherhood leader Mohammed el-Beltagy. Additionally, the defendants who are being tried in absentia include a Dutch freelance journalist who works for several Dutch media outlets and who visited Fahmy at the hotel. She and several other defendants fled the country after learning their names were on a blacklist of defendants. Moreover, the other five defendants in court on Monday told the judge their stories of abuse and torture during interrogation and imprisonment. One defendant claimed his teeth fell out from a beating, while another appeared with a sling around his arm.
The three Al Jazeera journalists, who have been thrust into the limelight due to their detention and remand to stand trial on accusations of terrorism in Egypt, were arrested on Dec. 29 in their hotel room in Cairo, where they had set up a makeshift Al Jazeera office following repeated raids after Morsi’s ouster in the Summer of 2013. The government accused the station of being biased to Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group, a charge which the accused Al Jazeera journalists deny. Ultimately, the judge rejected the bail request from Greste, Fahmy, and Mohammed during the hearing on Monday, suspended the trial until April 10, and ordered the prisoners back to prison.
By Leigh Haugh