Egypt court rejects Al-Jazeera journalists’ bail plea

The journalists, who have spent nearly 100 days in jail since their arrest, are charged with spreading false news and supporting deposed president Mohamed Morsi; their trial has sparked international condemnation

ON TRIAL. Australian journalist Peter Greste (3rd from right) of Al-Jazeera and his colleagues stand inside the defendants cage during their trial for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood at Cairo's Tora prison on March 5, 2014. File photo by Khaled Desouki/AFP

CAIRO, Egypt – An Egyptian court on Monday, March 31, rejected a plea for bail by jailed Al-Jazeera journalists, who denied links with the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood in a trial that has sparked international condemnation.

The journalists, who have spent nearly 100 days in jail since their arrest, are charged with spreading false news and supporting the Islamist movement of deposed president Mohamed Morsi.

“Please, get us out of jail, we are tired. We’ve been suffering in prison,” Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, the Cairo bureau chief of Al-Jazeera English, told the judges.

He and his seven co-defendants, dressed in white prison uniforms, were briefly allowed out of the caged dock to address the court, in what Fahmy’s lawyer, Khaled Abu Bakr, described as “an unprecedented move in the history of Egypt’s criminal courts”.

The trial, in which 20 defendants stand accused, has sparked an international outcry and fuelled fears of a media crackdown by the military-installed authorities. (READ: Egypt court resumes trial of Al Jazeera journalists amid outcry)

Australian reporter Peter Greste also pleaded to be released on bail, telling the judges “we only desire at this point to continue to fight to clear our names outside prison”.

“We would like to emphasise that we are more than willing to accept any conditions that you impose on us,” he added.

Producer Baher Mohamed said he wanted to be with his wife during her pregnancy.

“My wife is pregnant and she visits me in jail with the children. It is exhausting,” he told the judges.

“I want to be released on bail so I can be by her side.”

‘Not only about us’ 

At the end of the session Mohamed told Agence France-Presse that “we are here representing freedom of expression”.

“It’s not only about us.”

The judges ordered that two defendants who claimed they had been tortured be examined by “independent forensic doctors”.

They then adjourned the trial to April 10 without granting bail to any of the accused.

Prosecutors insist the Al-Jazeera journalists colluded with the Brotherhood, now designated a “terrorist” group, and falsely sought to portray Egypt in a state of “civil war”.

Fahmy said he cannot be considered as a terrorist or a Brotherhood member as he is a “liberal man” who drinks alcohol.

Greste also denied any links with the Brotherhood, saying he and fellow jailed journalists posed no threat to Egypt.

“The idea that I have a connection with the Muslim Brotherhood is frankly preposterous,” Greste told the judges, adding he had arrived in Cairo just two weeks before his arrest.

Eight defendants are in custody, and the rest are either on the run or abroad.

Greste and Canadian-Egyptian Fahmy were arrested on December 29 in a Cairo hotel suite they used as a bureau after their offices were raided by police. 

‘100 days in prison’

Before the proceedings began, Greste’s brother Mike said the award-winning journalist was “strong… but 100 days in prison must have left its effect on him”.

Defense lawyer Mokhles El-Salhy said his clients had been doing their “job professionally and objectively” when they were arrested.

“They were covering violent clashes between protesters and security forces, as were all other channels. They didn’t make it up or fabricate it,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the authorities to release the journalists and respect freedom of expression.

“The authorities must stop invoking the fight against terrorism in order to persecute dissident journalists,” RSF’s Lucie Morillon said.

The trial of the journalists from the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera network comes against the backdrop of strained ties between Cairo and Doha since the army ousted Morsi in July.

Qatar was a close ally of Morsi’s government and the Brotherhood, and Egypt accuses the gas-rich Gulf state of backing the Islamist movement, including through Al-Jazeera.

The authorities banned the pan-Arab broadcaster’s Egyptian channel after Morsi’s removal.

Monday’s hearing comes a day after Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim accused an Al-Jazeera editor of helping to leak classified intelligence documents, in a separate espionage trial involving Morsi.

The minister charged that Amin El-Serafi, secretary to Morsi, leaked the documents to Ibrahim Mohamed Hilal, who he said was Al-Jazeera’s news editor and also a Brotherhood member.

Hilal allegedly facilitated a meeting between a Palestinian go-between, a Qatari official and an operative with an unspecified intelligence agency. – Rappler.com

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