#FreeAJStaff: Closing arguments to begin June 1, Fahmy suing Al Jazeera

Tuesday, May 12, 2015
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Tuesday, May 12, 2015
By Alexandra Zakreski Journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed appeared in court again on Saturday, May 9, as their retrial for terrorism charges drags on. The last hearing on April 28 had been something of a victory; a technical committee tasked with reviewing footage produced by the two, along with their colleague Peter Greste, reported that the journalists had not fabricated any of the footage. However, in what has become a familiar pattern in this case, Saturday was another setback. The prosecution insisted on further questioning the technical committee, and insisted the committee answer questions about the content of the footage, something that was explicitly not included in their mandate. The experts had only been tasked with commenting on technical aspects of the evidence, yet lawyers for the prosecution repeatedly asked the committee if the videos harmed national security, and if they portrayed the ousting of Mohamed Morsi as a coup or a revolution. Saturday’s hearing was an unwelcome reminder that it is not only Fahmy and Mohamed that are on trial but also to some extent, the very practice of journalism, as the prosecution demonstrated the degree to which they lack an understanding of some of the fundamental tenets of the profession. Speaking outside the courtroom, Baher Mohamed expressed his frustration at the prosecutor’s emphasis that “we are responsible for what the interviewees are saying, [which] is absolutely wrong. If someone is saying something and we are covering it or recording it, we have nothing to do with it. This is our job, to speak to the people, this is the only point.” Following the proceedings the retrial was adjourned to June 1, at which point closing arguments will begin. The verdict is expected to be delivered before the end of June. In another development, Fahmy announced in a Cairo press conference yesterday that he is suing Al Jazeera Media Network for $100 million in damages, for their alleged negligence and role in contributing to his current legal battle. Fahmy has previously accused Al Jazeera of gross negligence for keeping him in the dark about their legal status to operate in Egypt, and for repackaging footage produced for the English channel on the banned Mubasher Misr. Speaking to reporters, Fahmy said “[Al Jazeera] don’t seem to understand that they cannot continue to challenge the sovereignty of governments, put the story ahead of the safety of their employees, and assume they will continue to get away with it.” In a statement to The Canadian Press, Al Jazeera responded to the announcement saying “All governments have news outlets that they don’t like, but they don’t use spurious grounds to put journalists in jail.” While Fahmy and Mohamed’s trial continues, journalists throughout Egypt remain under serious threat. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information reports that at least 60 journalists are detained in Egypt; most recently journalist Ahmed Qaoud, reporter for the daily Al-Dostour, was arrested on May 3, which was incidentally World Press Freedom Day. CJFE continues to call on the Egyptian government to drop all charges against Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. We further call on the authorities to release all journalists, human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in the country and to cease in their campaign in harassment of media workers and outlets.
Alexandra Zakreski is CJFE’s International Programs Coordinator.

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