#FreeAJStaff: In disturbing turn of events, prosecutors request maximum jail term

Thursday, June 5, 2014

By Alexandra Zakreski

The trial of Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed reconvened for the eleventh time today in a Cairo court. The prosecution finished presenting their case against the defendants, and gave their closing remarks.

So far the trial has been littered with inefficiencies, factual inaccuracies, and blatant tampering with evidence which would be almost humourous if it wasn’t being used in an attempt to convict 20 innocent individuals. Today’s session was plagued with the same problems, with the prosecution alleging the journalists had used “selective filming” to paint a July 2013 protest against former president Mohamed Morsi in a negative light, even though none of the defendants were in Egypt at the time. The prosecution also accused Al Jazeera of biased reporting on the sexual violence that took place during protests against Morsi in the summer of 2013. It’s important to note that many international media outlets reported on sexual assaults in Tahrir Square at this time, with The Guardian publishing a story titled “80 sexual assaults in one day—the other story of Tahrir Square.

The prosecution has essentially equated any reporting by Al Jazeera that represents the reality in Egypt with an attempt to defame the state. But while the trial is a farce, the fact that the country’s current political climate has allowed it to continue means a conviction is all too possible for these jailed journalists.

As a dual citizen of Egypt and Canada, Mohamed Fahmy could be subjected to a 25 year prison sentence, as would his colleague Baher Mohamed. Peter Greste and the three other foreign defendants being tried in absentia could be jailed for up to 15 years.

Speaking to the court, prosecutor Mohamed Barakat said “we request that the court, without compassion or mercy, apply the maximum penalty for the abominable crimes they have committed...mercy for such [people] will bring the entire society close to darkness.”

CJFE demands just the opposite: unconditional freedom for these individuals, whose only “abominable crime” has been the practice of professional, objective journalism. It is the conviction of these journalists, rather than “mercy,” that will bring Egyptian society close to darkness, as the space for dissenting voices continues to shrink to the point of non-existence. A conviction would represent a harrowing warning to all media workers in Egypt to toe the line and avoid expressing unpopular opinions, lest they suffer the same injustice that has been meted out to the myriad political activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens currently languishing in Egyptian jails.

The trial was adjourned to June 16 and bail was, once again, denied. Tomorrow, June 6, will mark the 160th day these journalists have been in prison.

Alexandra Zakreski is CJFE's International Programs Assistant.