#FreeAJStaff: Journalists appear in court on World Press Freedom Day

Monday, May 5, 2014

By Alexandra Zakreski

The three Al Jazeera English journalists imprisoned in Egypt under terrorism charges appeared in court for the seventh time on May 3, 2014. As of May 5, Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed have been imprisoned for 128 days.

Mohamed Fahmy’s defense was bolstered by the presence of a lawyer from the Egyptian Syndicate for Journalists. Fahmy is also the recipient of the 16th Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom Award, which he hopes will “convince the judge of our professional integrity [proving] to him that we are journalists striving for the truth; and not agents of terror.”

During Saturday’s hearing, Mohamed Fahmy was permitted to approach the bench and speak directly to the judge. Fahmy endeavoured to explain the concept of objective journalism and well-rounded coverage, conceding that while he and his colleagues had interviewed members of the Muslim Brotherhood, they also had contacts in the Egyptian police and intelligence services. Such variety is necessary, he argued, to ensure journalistic integrity.

The latest court appearance coincided with World Press Freedom Day, a fact that Fahmy made sure to mention as he closed his short speech by reminding the judge that the international community continues to follow the trial closely.

Saturday’s session was fairly brief, with little headway made in the court proceedings. This was due, once again, to the failure on the part of the prosecution to provide defense lawyers with copies of the audio-visual evidence presented in the previous two sessions. As it became clear that the trial would once again be stalled by the same lack of preparation that has thus far impeded proceedings Peter Greste became visibly frustrated, shouting to supporters that “there can be no press freedom in Egypt while journalists are winding up behind bars.” Greste also revealed that access to their lawyers has been nearly non-existent, and that the lack of evidence against the journalists is beginning to grate on them.

As the proceedings closed and the judge sent them back to their cell, the journalists chanted “Happy World Press Freedom Day,” which their colleagues reporting on the trial echoed with words of encouragement.

The next hearing will be on May 15.

Keep track of developments in the trial and detention of Al Jazeera English journalists in Egypt with our #FreeAJStaff: Timeline.

Alexandra Zakreski is CJFE's International Programs Assistant.