The Cairo Criminal Court Monday heard the closing arguments from the defence team for 13 students and one charity worker being tried alongside several journalists for supporting the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, announcing that the verdict would be issued on 23 June.
The students’ lawyers mainly focused on the fact that even if they were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group was not officially banned until early April, while maintaining that they were not members of Brotherhood and there is no concrete evidence for any of the charges.
The lawyer for Anas Beltagy, a defendant in the case and son of General Secretary for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, used his closing argument to make a political statement defending the Brotherhood, prompting outrage from the journalist defendants.
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 journalists’ defence lawyers presented their closing arguments on 5 June.
The six other defendants to appear in the courtroom, arrested on 2 January, are accused of being part of the “cell”. Five are students who claim to have not been acquainted with the Al Jazeera journalists before the trial, and one runs an Islamic charity. Eleven others, including Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, who have previously worked for Al Jazeera in Cairo, and Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, who has never worked for the network, are being tried in absentia.
Greste, an Australian, is one of four foreign defendants named in the case. The others are Britons Turton and Kane, and Dutchwoman Netjes. Netjes was allowed to leave Egypt following discussions between the Dutch embassy and the foreign ministry.
In a separate incident, Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdallah Elshamy was arrested over nine months ago at the violent clearing of the pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-in at Rabaa El-Adaweya Mosque. Last week a court decided to renew Elshamy’s detention, and the detention of 462 other defendants arrested during the 14 August Rabaa dispersal.
Elshamy has yet to be brought up on formal charges. He has been on hunger strike for 147 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.
In a statement after the last hearing, Al Jazeera said the journalists “were just doing their jobs”, and that the trial represented an indictment “of all journalists who believe in honest reporting and integrity.”
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.