#FreeAJstaff: Journalists covering trial ejected from courtroom

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

By Alexandra Zakreski

On April 22, 2014, the trial of three Al Jazeera English journalists—Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed—reconvened for the sixth time in a Cairo court.

During yesterday’s court appearance, more footage was shown by the prosecution to substantiate claims that the journalists on trial were operating under a vendetta to tarnish Egypt’s image abroad. Today’s trial date was meant to be the last chance for the prosecution to show evidence against the journalists, however due to technical difficulties and translation issues the deadline was extended.

Observers reported that several audio recordings proffered as evidence were unintelligible and the lawyer for Peter Greste was forced to attempt an impromptu translation of English footage into Arabic for the court’s comprehension.

Footage presented included Peter Greste documenting a street demonstration, although it was unclear if it was filmed in Egypt. Footage produced by Mohamed Fahmy was also played, which drew audible protests from the defendants’ cage, as Fahmy claimed that the footage belonged to Al Jazeera and he cannot be held responsible for what interviewees say on tape. One journalist observing the proceedings reported that “the video clips shown in the court were just standard TV footage that any journalist would have shot.”

In a move that seems to exemplify Egypt’s attitude towards the press, journalists were abruptly ejected from the courtroom after asking the defendants questions during the recess; something that had been permitted at every previous hearing. The court was also intent on preventing journalists from photographing the defendants in the cage, images that have thus far incited broad public censure on Twitter.

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird met with his Egyptian counterpart during a visit to the country on April 17, where he raised concerns regarding Mohamed Fahmy’s medical treatment, and emphasized the importance of a fair and expeditious trial. Minister Baird also met with Fahmy’s family the following day. In response to a letter from CJFE requesting that Minister Baird advocate for Fahmy during his trip to Egypt, Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Consular Services) Lynne Yelich has told CJFE that “the Government of Canada continues to call on the Egyptian government to protect and promote the rights of journalists, and the aspiration of all Egyptians to build a fully democratic country.”

Bail was once again denied, and the judge ordered further treatment for Fahmy’s shoulder injury as well as the translation of English video and audio recordings into Arabic. The trial has been adjourned to May 3, which also marks World Press Freedom Day. The bitter irony of this choice was not lost on many covering the proceedings.

Meanwhile, April 21 marked 250 days in jail for Al Jazeera Arabic’s Abdullah Al Shami. He has been held without charge since August 2013.

Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed have been imprisoned since December 29, 2013. Al Jazeera continues to reject all the charges leveled against its staff. CJFE continues to advocate for their release. Lend your voice to the movement to #FreeAJstaff and be sure to check our timeline to keep up with the latest developments.

Alexandra Zakreski is CJFE's International Programs Assistant.