#FreeAJStaff: Inefficiency continues to hinder progress in journalists’ trial

Friday, May 23, 2014

By Alexandra Zakreski and Laura Tribe

Al Jazeera English journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed appeared in a Cairo court for the ninth time yesterday.

During their last court appearance, a lawyer for Fahmy revealed that the defence had been asked to pay almost $170,000 USD for access to the prosecution’s evidence against their clients. The judge explicitly ordered copies to be released to the defence without charge, but Fahmy’s family has informed CJFE that the prosecution defied this order and continued to withhold the evidence. As a result, defence lawyers saw the footage for the first time in court yesterday, and the start of the defence was delayed yet again. The trial was adjourned to June 1, at which point the defence is expected to begin.

As in previous sessions, audio-visual and photographic evidence for the prosecution’s case were screened at yesterday’s hearing. This reel included conversation between Muslim Brotherhood supporters, a popular music video by the Australian artist Gotye, and other audio clips allegedly found in the possession of Peter Greste. Greste denies ownership or knowledge of the recordings, and became visibly frustrated at one point as the prosecution misattributed a piece of evidence to him, saying “the inefficiencies are just unbelievable. [...] The integrity of my evidence is being corrupted.”

A letter of attestation was submitted to the court on behalf of Amr Moussa, the elected president of a committee of 50 dedicated to amending the Egyptian constitution, expressing support for Mohamed Fahmy. Moussa joins a chorus of other prominent Egyptians who have vouched for Fahmy, including businessman Naguib Sawiris, famed scientist Dr. Farouk El-Baz and head of the Egyptian Coptic Association, Dr. Sherif Doss.

Tuesday, May 27 will mark the 150th day in jail for the three journalists. Many are questioning the motivation and logic behind their continued imprisonment, as no substantive progress has been made in the proceedings. Fahmy himself told press attending yesterday’s hearing that the three journalists are no longer hopeful of a rapid end to the trial.

Egyptian presidential elections are slated for May 26-27, which former military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is widely expected to win. Just last week the top candidate spoke to a panel of newspaper editors and warned journalists against pushing for press freedom, instead suggesting that media workers should “[rally] the public behind the ‘strategic goal’ of ‘preserving the Egyptian state.’” Meanwhile, Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed and countless other prisoners of conscience continue to languish in prison as the right to free expression in Egypt becomes ever more tenuous.

Alexandra Zakreski is CJFE's International Programs Assistant. Laura Tribe is CJFE's Online Editor and National Programs Coordinator.