Egypt Jazeera trial adjourned
25 March 2014, 10:15
Cairo - An Egyptian court on Monday adjourned the trial of three Al-Jazeera journalists and five students until March 31 after cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.
Defence lawyers questioned a number of secret police officers about equipment seized in the Cairo hotel suites that the Al-Jazeera International team were using as their studio. A total of twenty defendants are charged with harming Egypt's national interests by spreading false news and assisting or belonging to a terrorist organization, but 12 are being tried in absentia.
Al Jazeera International's Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste, a former BBC correspondent, and Baher Mahmoud were held when National Security raided their hotel in December. There were testy scenes Monday as lawyers for Greste and Mohammed clashed with Fahmy's defence counsel over the line of questioning. Fahmy's lawyer Khaled Abu Bakr sought to show that the prosecution case was based on his client working for
Al-Jazeera's banned Egyptian channel rather than the English-language Al-Jazeera International. But the session's first secret police witness insisted that several seized devices were being used illegally in any case as the journalists had no permit for them.
Fahmy interrupted from the defendants' cage to say that the officer had questioned him about only one item "and every satellite channel in Egypt uses it." "Please don't interrupt," presiding judge Mohammed Nagui said. Abu Bakr also rounded on an expert witness from state television, asking him how he and his three fellow experts had managed to submit four separate reports on the seized material that were "identical word for word."
As the judges retired to consider defence requests, Greste said that the journalists' treatment had improved in recent days. "We think this is due to the public pressure," he shouted from behind the bars of the defendants' cage. "We have not seen a shred of evidence in court that could possibly justify the charges against us or our imprisonment," he added.
Fahmy said he was reassured by a letter his family received Sunday from Egyptian President Adly Mansour, promising to "spare no effort to work towards the speedy resolution of the case."
"The letters from the president are very important," he said. "They're an expression from the president that we will be free." But the students arraigned on the same charges told journalists that they were getting much worse treatment. "We are in the Scorpion maximum security prison.
The water gets cut off for days at a time. The food is worse than anything. We've had no visits for two months," Khalid Mahmoud said. "I have two breaks in my arm and I've been waiting for two months for an X ray. They finally did it yesterday," he said. "We demand to be treated like animals. It would be much better than this," Shadi Ibrahim called out from the cage.
Nagui ordered prosecutors to ensure that all the defendants were able to receive visits. The case has embarrassed Egypt's military-backed government by focussing international attention on its crackdown on the media and on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.
The prosecution has been condemned by press bodies worldwide.