Egypt: 'Vindictive farce' prosecution of Al Jazeera journalists must end

Al-Jazeera journalist Mohammed Adow speaks to journalists in Nairobi, Feb 2014
Al-Jazeera journalist Mohammed Adow speaks to journalists outside the Egptian embassy in Nairobi in February 2014 © SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images

Amnesty trial observer in court today – available for interview

As the trial of three Al Jazeera journalists charged with falsifying news and involvement with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement resumes today, Amnesty International condemned the prosecution as a vindictive farce.

Al Jazeera English staff Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed, along with five Egyptian students, stand accused of belonging to or assisting a banned terrorist organisation - in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Programme Deputy Director, said:

“What the Egyptian authorities are doing is vindictive persecution of journalists for merely doing their jobs.

“So far, the Prosecution has failed to produce any convincing evidence and the journalists appear to be pawns in the hands of the authorities in their ongoing dispute with Qatar.

“The truth is that Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed are prisoners of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally.

“This trial is nothing more than posturing by the authorities to gain public support.

“This farce must end and the charges against the three men must be dropped.”

The trial has come amid worsening relations between Egypt and Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based.

An administrative court banned Al Jazeera’s Egyptian channel, Mubasher Misr, on 3 September 2013, along with three other channels seen as supporting Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. 

The arrests sparked an international outcry from media organisations, as well as a statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which expressed concern over what it called “the systematic targeting of Al Jazeera staff” and the wider situation facing journalists and other media workers in Egypt.

Security forces filmed the arrest of Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste and the video was later screened on Egyptian television, apparently in an attempt to smear the men.

The court is trying a total of 20 people in the case, 12 in absentia.

All face charges of broadcasting false news and of either belonging to or assisting persons belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Foreign nationals indicted in the case also face an additional charge of possessing “banned equipment” (including satellite phones), which authorities claim they used to falsify the news.

Nine of the defendants are Al Jazeera staff, the network has said, including British journalists Dominic Kane and Sue Turton and four unnamed Egyptian staff based in Qatar.  

A Dutch journalist also indicted in the case left Egypt after she discovered she would face trial.

The authorities are continuing to detain Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdullah al-Shami, arrested on 14 August 2013. He has been on hunger strike since mid-January 2014. The journalist has faced harassment by the security forces, both during his arrest for his work and in detention. 

An Amnesty trial observer is in court today and available for interview.

The men have been detained since 29 December 2013, when security forces arrested Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste at the Marriott Hotel in Cairo and Baher Mohamed at his home.  The five Egyptian students were arrested two days later.

At their last hearing on 31 March, the judge ordered forensic experts to examine three of the students, after they alleged the security forces had beaten them during their arrest.

The authorities are also denying Mohamed Fahmy adequate medical treatment for a shoulder injury sustained in the days before his arrest. The journalist has a fractured bone in his arm and his condition has worsened considerably due to lack of adequate medical care and the poor prison conditions he has endured, including over a month spent in the maximum-security Scorpion Prison after his arrest.

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