Restricting freedom of speech is unlawful unless it negatively affects national security, the Prosecutor General said in a Thursday statement.
The statement was made to comment on interrogations with the detained journalists who work for Al Jazeera English (AJE) satellite channel.
“The prosecution refers to Law 96/1996, which regulates the press, and states that [the press is to] … practice its freedoms with a responsibility toward serving the community by expressing different opinions and shaping public opinion,” the statement read. “The prosecution acknowledges that putting restrictions on freedom of speech is unlawful, until such point as this freedom negatively affects national security and the country’s interests.”
The statement also claimed that “some defendants confessed during the investigations that they had joined the terrorist group [The Muslim Brotherhood]. It has been proven that the defendants gathered and edited video material to re-create reports fabricating the situation in Egypt to tarnish the country’s reputation and delude international public opinion by saying that a civil war is going on in Egypt.”
The statement added that the case is “not politicised by any means, so what is published by foreign media, [saying that the detainment of journalists] is a form of illegal seizure or a … restriction on freedom of speech is inappropriate.”
AJE Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, producer Baher Mohamed, and cameraman Mohamed Fawzy are charged, according to the statement, with possessing unlicensed broadcast equipment used to damage Egypt’s national security, publishing false news to disrupt national peace and possessing false images aimed at tarnishing the country’s reputation and weakening its financial trust.
The statement said that the Australian defendant [Greste] pays other crew members to write and video-record material broadcasted on AJE, and chooses which topics to cover.
The crew was arrested on 29 December 2013 and have been detained since then.
Their detention has been the cause of heavy international and domestic criticism directed at Egyptian authorities, accusing them of a crackdown on journalists.