Twenty employees from Qatari-based news channel Al Jazeera have been referred to criminal court on a range of charges, including broadcasting false news and belonging to a terror group.
Dubbed the “Marriott Cell” by the prosecution, the main charges centre around three Al Jazeera journalists arrested on 29 December, Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, and producer Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian national. Fahmy and Greste were arrested at the Zamalek Marriott where they were using two rented suites as a base of operations, while Baher was arrested the same night at his home in suburban Cairo.
According to the criminal complaint, Fahmy—referred to as a member of the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood—“created a media network” specialised in producing fabricated video news stories which then aired on Al Jazeera and CNN in an effort to tarnish Egypt’s reputation abroad, depicting Egypt in the midst of a civil war.
While executing a search warrant at the Marriott, investigators confiscated cameras, microphones, editing equipment, computers, transmission devices, sound converters, current regulators, gasmasks, foreign and local currencies, and literature for Muslim Brotherhood causes.
“The general prosecution has inspected the equipment, tools, and media footage seized from the defendants and has assigned media experts from the Egyptian Union for Television and Radio and forensic experts to inspect them,” read the statement. “Their technical reports have shown that the media footage contains altered and modified video scenes using software and high-calibre editing equipment…”
If found guilty defendants could face 15 to 25 years in prison with the possibility of the death penalty, according to human rights lawyer Ahmed Ezzat. The length of the sentence depends on the strength of evidence, he added.
Eight of the defendants are currently in custody and will be referred to court, while arrest warrants have been issued for the other 12.
The Egyptian defendants listed in the complaint are charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation; calling for disruption of the law and preventing state institutions from conducting their affairs; assault on personal liberties of citizens and damaging national unity and social peace; and using terrorism as a means to implement their purposes.
The foreign defendants are charged with colluding with the Egyptian defendants and a series of other charges, including broadcasting false news to support a terrorist group; harming the national interest of the country; disturbing public security; instilling fear among the people; causing damage to the public interest; and possession of communication, filming, broadcast, and video transmission equipment without a permit from the concerned authorities.
Additional reporting by Joel Gulhane and Basil El-Dabh