The trial of Al Jazeera journalists, which was set to take place on Thursday at The Non Commissioned Police Officers Institute in Tora, has been adjourned to 5 March due to the absence of a translator at court.
Human Rights lawyer Gamal Eid of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) criticised the location of the trial, describing it as “a blow to the court’s justice”, as defendants are being tried in a police institute rather than a courthouse.
Eid added that while Egyptian journalists will possibly be sentenced to the death penalty, foreign journalists may be handed a verdict of 15 years in prison.
ANHRI reported that the families of the detained journalists along with the media were precluded from attending the trial.
The family of detained Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah ElShamy appeared in Tora to show solidarity with the detainees. ElShamy has been on a hunger strike for about a month and was arrested after the dispersal of the August 2013 Rabaa sit-in.
A group of 20, nine of whom are Al Jazeera journalists, are facing trial in the case dubbed by the prosecution as the “Marriott Cell”; all but three of the journalists will be tried in absentia.
Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Australian correspondent Peter Greste were arrested from two rented suites at the Marriott Hotel in Zamalek, which they had been using as a base for operations, on 29 December. Egyptian producer Mohamed Baher was arrested on the same night from his house in suburban Cairo.
The trio were referred to trial in January with charges of “broadcasting false news” and “aiding a terrorist organisation”, among other charges.
Early in February, privately funded Al-Tahrir channel aired a video of the journalists’ arrest from the Marriott Hotel. The video showed the journalists being questioned without lawyers, with dramatic music playing in the background, along with the equipment they used to perform their job. Al Jazeera channel criticised the video, describing it as “an attempt to demonise its detained staff”.
The trial of the Al Jazeera journalists has stirred controversy and criticism against the Egyptian authorities by international organisations; a wide scale social media campaign, titled Free AJStaff, is calling for the release of the detained journalists. Journalists from around the world began posting pictures of themselves gagged by the Egyptian flag, as a show of solidarity with the detainees.
Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Wednesday crticising charges relating to offensive speech against journalists, protesters and academics.
“Journalists should not have to risk years in an Egyptian prison for doing their job,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The prosecution of these journalists for speaking with Muslim Brotherhood members, coming after the prosecution of protesters and academics, shows how fast the space for dissent in Egypt is evaporating.”
Committee to Defend Press Independence in Egypt condemned the statement of the British National Union of Journalists (NUJ), which demanded the release of Al Jazeera journalists by protesting in front of the Egyptian embassy.
The committee considered the NUJ action as “foreign meddling in internal matters,” and called on foreign critiques to respect “the sovereignty of the Egyptian state” and the Egyptian laws organising media practice. The statement also demanded that Egyptian embassies abroad show the “truth about the journalists’ situation”.
The Committee to Defend Press Independence is an independent committee that monitors the performance of the board of the Egyptian Press Syndicate and calls for the independence of the press and journalists.
Additional reporting by Aaron T. Rose