Journalists: Egypt trial a joke
CAIRO — Egyptian prosecutors presented their first evidence on Thursday to back charges that three journalists from the Al-Jazeera satellite news network and their co-defendants participated in terrorism, playing to the court an assortment of videos found in their possession. They included news clips about an animal hospital with donkeys and horses, and another about Christian life in Egypt.
Defense lawyers — and even the judge — dismissed the videos as irrelevant, while defendants shouted from the dock that the trial was “a complete joke” and “an embarrassment to Egypt.”
The three journalists, award-winning Australian correspondent Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian acting bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed, are accused of being part of a terrorist group and airing falsified footage intended to damage Egyptian national security. Egyptian authorities accuse Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera of providing a platform for the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government has branded a terrorist organization.
Al-Jazeera denies the claim, and the defendants deny being members of the Brotherhood, saying they were simply doing their job reporting on Egypt's political turmoil.
The case is part of an unprecedented crackdown on the Brotherhood since the military's ouster in July of Islamist President Mohamed Morsy, who was a veteran figure from the group. Hundreds of Morsy supporters have been killed in crackdowns on protests and more than 16,000 have been arrested. The three journalists, who work for Al-Jazeera's English-language channel, were arrested Dec. 29 when police raided a Cairo hotel room they were using as an office.
“This is a politicized trial and a politicized judge,” Fahmy shouted from the courtroom cage where defendants are traditionally held during trials. He said prosecutors had told him privately that he and his co-defendants “are paying the price” for tensions between Egypt and Qatar.
“I want to get out of this place! ... I am going to expose all of this!” he shouted. “There are crimes against humanity taking place. Nothing is right in this system.”
Besides the three journalists, 17 others are charged in the case, mostly students not connected to Al-Jazeera. Only five of the students are present for the trial, with the rest on trial in absentia.
In previous sessions, prosecutors have said they would present video from the defendants showing they intended to harm national security. The prosecution has said it will present further video evidence including Al-Jazeera coverage of the crackdown on Islamists that it claims was falsified to destabilize Egypt and fuel support of the Brotherhood by showing Egypt as thrown into “civil war.”