#FreeAJstaff: Al Jazeera English journalists appeal directly to the judge for freedom

Monday, March 31, 2014

By Alexandra Zakreski

Three Al Jazeera English journalists appeared in a Cairo court today as part of their ongoing trial under charges of spreading false news, belonging to a terrorist group and operating without a permit.

The journalists, Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed, have spent nearly 100 days in prison. At today’s court appearance, in an unusual move, the journalists and their five co-defendants were guided out of the defendants’ cage and allowed to speak directly to Judge Mohammed Nagui.

The journalists took this opportunity to appeal for their release on bail under humanitarian grounds, with Baher Mohamed requesting to be released on bail so that he can support his heavily pregnant wife and children. Mohamed Fahmy pleaded, “Please, get us out of jail. We are tired. We’ve been suffering in prison,” and asked that he and his fellow journalists be found innocent. They also expressed their mounting frustration at the absurdity of the charges against them, with Peter Greste stating unequivocally:

”I am a journalist with 30 years experience [...] The idea that I have an association with the Muslim Brotherhood is frankly preposterous.”

Fahmy was equally exasperated, asking the judge, “I am secular, Peter is a Christian [...] I am liberal, I drink alcohol—have you seen a Muslim Brotherhood member drinking alcohol before?”

The journalists all requested to be released on bail, assuring the judge that they would accept any restrictions in exchange for the ability to “fight to clear our names outside the prison.” Greste also noted that he and his colleagues were found without any weapons, were not being charged with violent crimes and thus posed no threat to “either the state of Egypt or any individual.”

Today’s court appearance was intended to screen the video evidence that the prosecution is using to substantiate claims that the journalists fabricated false news. However, due to technical issues there was no screening for the second consecutive court appearance. This led the three journalists to express their frustration that neither they nor their lawyers have yet to see any of the video evidence in question, with Fahmy noting, “it’s inconceivable that after three months we’ve yet to see the video that’s the basis of the case against us.”

The trial was postponed yet again, this time to April 10, purportedly to “[equip the courtroom] to screen the videos, enable relatives of the suspects to visit them, medically examine four of the suspects and submit reports over their health condition.” Despite pleas from Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed, bail was denied. As the session came to a close, Mohamed Fahmy was able to speak briefly to Agence France Press (AFP), stating:

“It’s not only about us [...] we are here representing freedom of expression.”

CJFE continues to call on the Egyptian government to release the three Al Jazeera English journalists in prison, as well as all other activists and journalists who are arbitrarily detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

If you haven’t already, sign and share the petition to #FreeAJStaff.

Alexandra Zakreski is CJFE’s International Programs Assistant.