Held at the Cairo Criminal Court in Tora Prison, the eleventh hearing in the case against three Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt and 17 others was adjourned on Thursday to 16 June after the prosecution and defence made their closing arguments.
Accused of aiding a terrorist group (the Muslim Brotherhood), spreading false news, tarnishing Egypt’s image abroad, and “creating a terrorist media network”, lawyer for the defence Khaled Abu Bakr argued that the prosecution did not produce evidence that the journalists did anything illegal in their line of work. The defence was also quick to point out inconsistencies between the audio/visual experts’ written and oral testimonies. Lawyers for the defence will conclude their closing arguments at the next hearing, reported state-run Al-Ahram.
Dubbed the “Marriott Cell” by the prosecution, Al Jazeera bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, correspondent Peter Greste, and producer Baher Mohamed are accused of spreading false news to harm Egypt and creating a “terrorist media network”. Fahmy and Greste were arrested at the Zamalek Marriott hotel on 29 December after police raided two hotel suites the journalists used as a base of operation. Mohamed was arrested the same evening from his home in suburban Cairo.
The other defendants to appear in the courtroom were students who claim to have not been acquainted with the Al Jazeera journalists before the trial, while 11 others are being tried in absentia.
Greste, an Australian, is one of four foreign defendants named in the case. The other foreign defendants are Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, who have previously worked for Al Jazeera in Cairo, while Dutch journalist Rena Netjes has never worked for Al Jazeera but met with Fahmy at the Marriott hotel. She was allowed to leave Egypt following discussions between the Dutch embassy and the foreign ministry.
In a separate incident, Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdullah Elshamy was arrested over nine months ago at the violent clearing of the pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-in at Rabaa El-Adaweya Mosque. A court hearing on Thursday to extend his detention, and the detention of 462 other defendants arrested during the 14 August Rabaa dispersal, was postponed to next Wednesday.
Elshamy has yet to be brought up on formal charges. He has been on hunger strike for 136 days, and recent medical tests revealed that his health is in critical condition.
The arrests and detention of journalists in Egypt has garnered international ire. The US State Department called the charges against the Al Jazeera journalists “spurious”, while the White House, members of the US Congress, the European Union, the United Nations and the Australian government have all expressed their unequivocal condemnation, and called for the journalists’ release. People around the world have staged protests in solidarity with the journalists, demanding their release.
Egypt has experienced an increasingly severe crackdown on voices of dissent. The Committee to Protect Journalists has ranked Egypt the third most dangerous country for journalists after Syria and Iraq. The country ranked 159th out of 180 in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders “Press Freedom Index”.
In previous interviews, Al Jazeera said it no longer has staff members based in Egypt.