Happy press freedom day, judge tells Al-Jazeera journalist in court hearing in Egypt

Three Al-Jazeera broadcasting staff held on terror charges in Egypt are denied bail

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:43am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:43am


One of the Al-Jazeera journalists held in Egypt made a rare appeal outside of the defendants' cage, as the judge trying him and his colleagues wished them a "happy" World Press Freedom Day before ordering them back to jail.

The broadcaster's Canadian-Egyptian acting bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy stood before Judge Mohamed Nagi Shehata on Saturday and explained that journalists have to speak to all sides to do their jobs. But the judge again denied the journalists bail and set their next hearing for May 15.

Fahmy, along with Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, face charges of being part of a terrorist group and airing falsified footage intended to damage Egyptian national security. Qatar-based Al-Jazeera and the journalists deny the allegations.

Their arrest comes as part of a greater crackdown on the press and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which toppled Islamist president Mohammed Mursi hails. The Al-Jazeera English service journalists face trial on the charges with 17 others. Al-Jazeera Arabic service journalist Abdullah Elshamy has been held without charges since August after being arrested separately.

In his brief appeal, Fahmy said he had good contacts in the Egyptian army, the police and the intelligence services. Fahmy later told journalists covering the hearing that he mentioned that because of prosecutors previously showing a picture of Fahmy standing by Mursi. He said there were pictures of him with other veteran politicians that the court did not show.

Fahmy also asked the judge to release them before Egypt's presidential election later this month. When the judge asked Fahmy if he wanted to cover the vote, Fahmy simply said he wanted to get out of prison. At the end of his remarks, Fahmy wished the judge a "Happy World Press Freedom Day". Shehata responded the same way.

In a shouted exchange between journalists covering the hearing and the defendants, Fahmy said he had not seen his legal team in two weeks and had not had a chance to review the evidence against him with his lawyer.

Greste added that there was "no evidence" against the three and that they were "very frustrated with the system".

In a letter to Egyptian interim President Adly Mansour in January, campaigners, the Committee to Protect Journalists, called on the government to release all detained journalists. The committee said at the time at least five journalists had been killed, 45 assaulted, 44 detained and 11 news outlets raided in Egypt since Mursi was overthrown.